Every country has its own Christmas traditions. In France the most common and special tradition is Galette des Rois. Celebrated after 12 days of Christmas, it marks Epiphany, the arrival of the Three Wise men (Magi) who in Biblical legend followed the Star of Bethlehem to the stable of the Christ child. Their journey is said to have taken 12 days, and the 12 days of Christmas end on the Epiphany, or le jour des Rois. Every year, on January 6th, people gather pour tirer les rois, to find the kings. La galette des Rois (literally “the flat pastry cake of the Kings”), is eaten in celebration of the arrival of the three kings who traveled from afar with gifts for the newborn baby.
There are three important elements to this French tradition ; the galette des rois, the féve (a small object that is placed in the galette des rois) and the crowning of the king and queen.
In France, the cakes can be found in most bakeries during the month of January. Two versions exist: in northern France the cake consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of frangipane.
In the south of France, particularly in Occitania and Roussillon, the cake, called gâteau des rois or royaume, is a torus-shaped brioche with candied fruits, very similar to the Catalan tortell. This version of the cake originates in Provence and predates the northern version.
A figurine, la fève, which can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character, is hidden in the cake and the person who finds the trinket in their slice becomes king/queen for the day and will have to offer the next cake. Originally, la fève was literally a broad bean (fève), but it was replaced in 1870 by a variety of figurines out of porcelain.
These figurines have become popular collectibles and can often be bought separately. Individual bakeries may offer a specialized line of fèves depicting diverse themes from great works of art to classic movie stars and popular cartoon characters. A paper crown is included with the cake to crown the “king” who finds the fève in their piece of cake.
To ensure a random distribution of the cake shares, it is traditional for the youngest person to place themselves under the table and name the recipient of the share which is indicated by the person in charge of the service.
The youngest person is considered to be the most innocent one and therefore fair in the distribution of the slices. This importance is given to the distribution because of the lucky charm, la fève, hidden in the galette.
Formerly, one divided the cake in as many shares as guests, plus one. The latter, called “the share of God,” “share of the Virgin Mary,” or “share of the poor” was intended for the first poor person to arrive at the home.
The French President is not allowed to “draw the kings” on Epiphany because of the etiquette rules. Therefore, a traditional galette without figurine or crown is served at Elysée Palace in January.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris to be a part of this tradition, then have a good stay with us at any one of our two luxurious properties in the French Capital, Fraser Suites Le Claridge Champs-Elysées and Fraser Suites Harmonie Paris la Defense.
Fraser Suites Le Claridge Champs-Elysées is one of the most dramatic hotels in Paris: right on the Champs-Elysées, with sweeping views over classic façades, Parisian rooftops and a tranquil courtyard.
Fraser Suites Harmonie Paris la Defense is set in the business district of La Défense by the picturesque River Seine. La Défense’s futuristic buildings tower against the skyline and the River Seine meanders past. Many rooms boast balconies with stunning views over river or city.