3 Kings Day aka Epiphany+ King Cake In France: Beginners Guide

On January 6th, people across France celebrate Epiphany day by eating la galette des Rois. But what exactly is this day and how is it celebrated?

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 11, 2024  
Epiphany day and King cake in France. How 3 kings day is celebrated
Epiphany day and King cake in France. How 3 kings day is celebrated

What is Epiphany Day: Symbolic Meaning

Christians have been celebrating Epiphany since the fourteenth century but the French celebrate it with a flair all their own.

Remember that song “The 12 Days of Christmas”?

L’Épiphanie sometimes referred to as “La fête des Rois” Three Kings Day or “le Jour des Rois” Kings Day, is celebrated on January 6th, exactly 12 days after December 25th.

This religious celebration marks the time when the three wise men or Magi “Les Trois Mages” visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem bearing gifts and to worship Jesus after they saw a star in the East which they recognized as a sign that a king was born— a messiah and God. It’s also the day when John the Baptist baptized baby Jesus in the River Jordan

You might be interested in reading about Chandeleur in France aka (National Crepe Day) which falls exactly 40 days after Christmas

Ties to Mardi Gras:

January 6th (Epiphany) is also the beginning of Carnival season which ends the day after Mardi Gras (FAT TUESDAY) on Ash Wednesday. Think of Mardi Gras as the last hurrah before Lent begins.

You might be interested in reading about 15 Fabulous French New Year’s Eve and New Years Day Traditions

On January 6th, people across France celebrate Epiphany day aka 3 Kings day by eating King cake "la galette des Rois". Here's how it's celebrated and what to expect.

How To Celebrate Epiphany in France and eat King cake.

Although the official day to celebrate Epiphany and eat king cake is January 6th, in France, people begin to eat King Cake on the first Sunday of January after the 1st.

In the days and in some cases, weeks leading up to Epiphany, the shelves at French boulangerie, pâtisserie, and super marché in France are lined with rows of “galette des Rois” (King Cake). 

crown found with a king cake in France

Eat King Cake

A King cake is called a “Galette des Rois” in France. It’s a flattish puff pasty that resembles a pie or big pastry more than a cake and is usually filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs, and sugar but it can also contain other ingredients like apple puré.

Eat king cake in France for the new year: les gallettes des rois

In the south of France where we live, there is a second type of king cake called “gâteau des Rois” or “Couronne des Rois” (king’s crown). It’s more like a brioche which is more bread or cake-like. It can be topped with candied fruit and white sugar to make it look like an actual crown with jewels.

This brioche-like king cake is similar in texture and shape to the King cake found in Louisiana.

This king cake is from the south of France.

The galettes des roi (King cake) tradition is simple and quick.

You can eat king cake at small gatherings with friends, family, co-workers or all three. Some people take the opportunity to open a bottle of champagne or have a glass of hot wine or cider.

First, someone is designated to cut slices of the king cake: 

Hidden in each king cake is a small figurine, called a fève (bean) which is baked right into the king cake. (Originally an actual bean was put in king cakes. Around the 1870s, it was replaced by porcelain figurines and more recently sometimes by plastic toys.)

The person who gets the slice of king cake containing the fève gets to wear the paper crown which is always included with a King cake purchased at grocery stores and French bakeries in France. 

percelain figurines we found in our king cake in France

If there are small Children:

If there are children, it’s a tradition that the youngest child hides under the table and randomly announces who gets the next slice. This is the part that the kids love the most. It’s also a way to ensure that the slices are handed out randomly.

Our cat got to wear the crown from our king cake

You can usually eat king cake and celebrate throughout the month of January. 

It’s not unusual to partake in a slice several times throughout January at different social gatherings. 

Even the President joins in.

Every year a lucky French baker is chosen to make a gigantic galette des Rois which can serve as many as 150 people at the Elysée Palace (the equivalent to the White House). It’s the only King cake in France that must NOT have a secret fève inside in remembrance of the French Revolution.

The Head of State cannot be President of the Republic … and be elected King! This is contrary to the ideas of the French Republic.

You don’t need to come to France to be King for a day. You can make King cake yourself, Louisiana style. Don’t forget the fève.

Photo of pinterest pin for How to celebrate 3 kings day in France aka Epiphany day

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

Related Articles you might like

Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.


We Should Be Friends

Subscribe to Receive the Latest Updates