On or around the 6th of January, to celebrate the 12th day of Christmas also known as the Epiphany, and to mark the end of the Christmas celebrations, we share La galette des Rois (the Kings’ pie), a puff pastry traditionally filled with marzipan, a sweet almond paste.
This French tradition can be traced back to the 14th century and has a certain charm to it, figuratively and literally:
The ‘galette des rois’ has a purpose: to “draw the kings” to the Epiphany.
A small trinket is hidden in the filling and the person who gets it becomes Queen or King for a day.
This is to remember the arrival of the Three Wise Men (known as the Three Kings in French) in Bethlehem. Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, who represent Asia, Africa and Europe, travelled there, guided by a star, to bring their gifts to Jesus.
The little charm hidden in the cake is called fève. It has evolved from a bean, to a porcelain or plastic figurine.
Like many Christian festivals, the date of Epiphany corresponds to what was originally a pagan festival. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, the winter solstice, during which a king or queen was chosen for one day, thanks to a white or black bean hidden in a cake.
Although marzipan is one of the most popular fillings, you can also find apple and chocolate flavoured galettes des rois.
According to tradition, the cake should be cut into as many slices as there are guests around the table, plus an extra slice called ‘part du pauvre‘ (poor man’s slice).
The tradition varies slightly on the Greek side of the family. They have the Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα), a sweet bread in which they hide a coin. They share it on the 1st of January and the winner should expect health and luck throughout the year to come.
He or she might also receive a little present in the form of a small piece of jewellery displying the year, or some money.
Somehow, at ours, the kids always win.
Pure coincidence, obviously!
Categories: Christmas Diary