Also known as La Fete des Rois, the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of God in human form as Jesus Christ. It also celebrates the Three Kings: Gaspard, Balthazar, and Melchoir, who came to visit Jesus, and the journey they made. The traditional day to celebrate the Epiphany is 6th January, though it can sometimes be celebrated on the first Sunday of the month. Though celebrated worldwide, the holiday has many customs unique to France.
La Fete des Rois is a day of feasting and indulgence in France and specialty cakes are baked across the country, with different regions having their own signature variety. The feasting tends to begin with a traditional Yule Log of the sort eaten in many countries on Christmas day. Many families begin to eat the log at Christmas and then have a piece each day, finishing on Epiphany. The most famous element of Epiphany celebrations is, however, the galette des rois (King’s cake) which is a cake often made of puff pastry and filled with a variety of delicious ingredients such as almond paste or fruit.
The cake has a secret surprise in the form of a figurine or fava bean, much like the English tradition of placing a coin within the Christmas pudding. The person who finds the surprise in their slice becomes King or Queen, and is rewarded with a paper crown and the option to choose a Royal partner. Other traditions involving the King’s cake are to serve the youngest at the table first, who then decides which piece goes to whom and to cut a slice for loved ones who cannot be present at the celebration.
Many families choose to save some or all of the present giving until Epiphany; a custom which is symbolic, given that the day marks when the Kings came to Jesus bearing gifts. The Epiphany tends to coincide with the taking down of the Christmas decorations, as it is considered by many to be bad luck to keep them up past the celebration.
For domestic goddesses, there are numerous recipes for King’s cake to be found online, however those with less culinary prowess would do well do visit a Boulangerie, if in France, or order online if not. The cakes do tend to be expensive, costing upwards of twenty euros, but are often beautifully decorated and presented. Secco is said to make the best galettes in Paris whilst Londoners can order their own taste of France from Le Montmatre on Fleet Street.