Épiphanie, the Day of the Three Kings, in France

Galette des Rois (PhotoXpress_Nath Photos)

Now that New Year’s Eve has passed, I can wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. In France, it’s considered bad luck to do so before midnight on 31st December. Although we have turned the corner of the year, I will still be writing last year’s date on cheques and official forms until April.

After Christmas and New Year and before January’s cold reality sets in (it’s set in pretty well already: minus 10 C here this morning – written in 2019), one last fête occurs in France: Épiphanie. This is the day the three Magi visited Jesus and offered him gifts. In France, it is celebrated either on 6th January (Twelfth Night if you start counting on 26th December) or on the first Sunday in January.

Association sustenance

We celebrated this event a little early last night when we attended l’Assemblée Générale (AGM) of a local association, Caylus Notre Village. CNV exists to highlight and safeguard local heritage sites and was the force behind the restoration of our local lavoir, which was completed in 2018.

Despite the cold, more than 20 people turned out to hear what had been achieved the previous year. As always, everyone uttered the usual formulae, Bonne Année or Meilleurs Voeux, with the talisman phrase appended, “Surtout pour la santé” (above all, for good health), accompanied by a blizzard of kisses. We do three kisses here, so it takes a while to get through everyone. The close personal contact and the wishes for good health are, perhaps, rather contradictory, but we’re happy to participate. [NB Written before Covid put paid to such salutations.]

No meeting in France is complete without a drink and something to eat. Yesterday, this consisted of cidre rosé (pink cider: quite pleasant) and the special cake consumed at Epiphanie, la galette des Rois, the Kings’ cake.

La galette des Rois

The recipe varies between regions, but around here it is made of glazed pastry and filled with almond paste, called frangipani. Last night, a version filled with apple purée was also served. What is special about this cake (which, frankly, I find a bit bland) is that a fève is baked inside. Formerly, this was actually a fava bean. These days it’s more common to find a porcelain figurine or trinket in the cake. It is still known as the fève.

During le tirage du rois (or cutting of the cake), the person who finds the fève is named king or queen for the day and gets a cardboard crown to wear, which the boulangerie provides with the cake. The monarch also chooses a consort.

My fève

In fact, the French eat la galette des Rois throughout January, not just at Épiphanie, and you’ll find special displays in the supermarkets for a few weeks to come.

Several years ago, we were invited to dinner with French friends and some other guests provided the galette for dessert. When she cut the cake, Marie-Jo, by sleight of hand, made sure I drew the fève. It was a tiny porcelain coffee grinder, which I still have (see photo above). I received my crown and appointed our host Jean-François my consort.

This is a rather nice tradition and a way of making the fêtes de fin d’année last a little longer.

If you’d like to know how to make a galette, my friend and fellow life in France blogger Jacqui Brown has a recipe.

You might also like:

French Solstice Customs
Pastis: A Quercy Speciality
Walnut Time

Copyright © 2019 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. “The close personal contact and the wishes for good health are, perhaps, rather contradictory, but we’re happy to participate.”

    Now, THAT is a funny line.

    As for King Cakes?…..I grew up having them every year. Quite frankly, they were never very good, but that wasn’t the point of them, at least not in New Orleans (they’e sort of like candy at Halloween, commercial fruitcakes at Christmas or chocolate-bunnies at Easter; the point is quantity, rather than quality….and no one ever REALLY likes them at all, but no one ever suggests that we simply skip having them). You can read ALL about the NOLA version here: https://www.neworleans.com/events/holidays-seasonal/mardi-gras/history-and-traditions/king-cakes/

    I did, finally and when I was at least 44, have my first “real” (as in, actually good) King Cake at my in-laws house in Tours. It was,in fact, very good.

    Thanks for the entertaining posting,

    David Terry
    Quail Roost Farm
    Rougemont, NC

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never had so many colds as during a winter when we belonged to a large choir and it was de rigueur to faire la bise à tout le monde au début de la répétition. But, faire la bise is an essential part of French life, as you will know.

      I had a strange sense of déjà vu when I read your comment, since someone has mentioned New Orleans King Cakes to me before and now, as a result of a senior moment, I can’t remember who it was. Looking at your link, they are a flamboyant version of the more restrained traditional variety, but much more colourful. However, I think I will pass on them. A good galette des Rois is very good. Alas, many are mediocre.

      Bonne Année.


  2. The problem in France is that dieting into the New Year is impossible – first Galette des Rois, and then (in our area at least) there are bugnes. You have to wait until Lent before the stream of goodies slows down (and then only briefly before Easter chocolate!!) I do like a nice Galette, however, and we’re building up quite a collection of fèves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is generally something to celebrate and food plays a large part. I had to look up bugnes on Google, since I hadn’t come across them before. I see they are kind of beignets-cum-doughnuts, specialities of Lyon and the SE. They are cousins of merveilles, which are a SW France version made in Gascony. Thanks for the info. I’ve only ever found one fève and that was thanks to my friend!


  3. I bought a galette des rois this morning to have as dessert tonight. Mind you, as there are just two of us, I know I’ll end up as either the king or his consort…

    Liked by 1 person

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