3 Kings Day: Epiphany traditions in France

3 Kings Day: Epiphany traditions in France

It’s the Jour de l’Epiphanie! Time for some cake! France may be a secular country, but certain Christian traditions are still widely carried on.

Three Kings Day, as it is called in English, is inspired by the 3 kings who were traditionally supposed to have visited the baby Jesus with gifts, a few days after he was born. (Not sure they brought the baby cake though!) It is not a national holiday in France, but it is rather a big deal in offices and schools around France.

And by big deal, I mean a big reason to eat cake. It is one day of the year when someone brings in a galette de roi, and everyone pigs out. Over the years, there has been a debate (link in french) about whether or not it is religious, or more just an occasion to mark the Winter Solstice.

The day usually falls in the 2nd week in January, when schools reopen after the Christmas holidays and everyone is back at work. The perfect reason for a moment of conviviality and to moan about how much they ate over the holidays, while eating cake and perhaps a bit of cider.

The King Competition

And there’s a bit of competition involved. A tiny figurine called a feuve is hidden by the baker within the galette de roi (can anyone say, “choking hazard?”), and the person who finds it is crowned King or Queen for the day.

To make sure things are fair, if there are small children, the youngest child gets to hide under the table and announce who gets the next slice.

The tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, when the person crowned King/Queen actually had to pay a round of drinks at the table. If you were poor and couldn’t afford a round, you always had the choice of swallowing your feuve.

These days no such sacrifices are necessary. The winner just gets a paper crown and gets to wear it around the office!


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