Newsletter Archives

January 2001 - Galettes des Rois A Sweet Way to Begin the New Year

During the month of January, the windows of bakery shops in Paris are filled with a delightful, golden pastry called the galette. Made of pâte feuilleté (flaky pastry crust) and almond paste, these are sold to celebrate the twelfth day of Christmas (January 6th), popularly known in France as Kings' Day (La fête des rois).

Associated with the season of Epiphany, the celebration of Kings' Day takes place among friends or family with the distribution of a portion of the pastry to every guest around the table. Hidden within one of these portions is a fève, formerly a bean but now a porcelain figurine. The lucky person whose portion contains a fève gets to wear a golden crown that is supplied with the galette. It's all done in fun of course, and the ceremony is part of the Christmas celebrations that consolidate social ties among friends and family.

Though Epiphany is celebrated on the first Sunday in January, galettes may be purchased and the selection of the king may be made during most of the month. Fèves are viewed by many as collectors' items, and those designed for the galettes sold in gourmet shops can be extraordinary.

The basis of this tradition extends back to the pre-Christian era, and many of the customs that used to be part of the celebration are now lost. Two generations or so ago the head of the family might have cut the pastry and asked "Phœbe Domine, à qui va celui-ci?" (Seignior Apollo, to whom goes this one?) The youngest child would distribute the portions to the family seated around the table. One portion would be held back (la part à Dieu) and distributed to a needy person making the rounds. In some parts of France the randomly chosen king would drink while the company would cry out "Le Roi boit!" (The King drinks!) and recite couplets.

The Christmas season does not end with Kings' Day, but extends until February 2nd, the 40th day after Christmas. This day is called La fête de la chandeleur (Candlemas), and the galettes of January give way to crêpes (the paper-thin pancakes for which the French are so famous) for its celebration. Good luck is assured for the rest of the year if you hold a piece of gold in your left hand while flipping the crêpe in a skillet with the right!

Bonne Année! from the staff at Entrée to Black Paris

Paris Panorama Newsletters for 2001