Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Vive La Fete

One of the (many) excellent things about living in a foreign land is the chance to learn about and embrace new traditions.

Today is the 6th of January; on the Christian calendar, that means the Feast of the Epiphany.  Tradition holds that it was this 12th day of Christmas on which the three magi (wise men) from the East appeared in Bethlehem to render homage to Jesus.

In France, and indeed other Latin, Catholic nations like Spain and its former terriroties, the day is celebrated with the famous galette des rois - the kings' cake.

This delicious, sweet, almond-infused cake is served at a family gathering on the Epihpany.  Beyond the sweetness of the cake, a hidden surprise is baked into the cake's centre - a small fève.  Dating back approximately to the fourth century, the fève was initially a fava bean (the French word is literally a fava bean), which was taken from the Roman winter custom of Saturnalia and melded with Christian tradition.

The cake is divided into n+1 pieces, where n is the number of celebrants.  The extra piece, symbolic of almsgiving, was called "God's share," and held out for the first poor or hungry person to visit the home, in recognition of the gift of God's Son to the world.

Whoever locates the fève is entitled to be king for the day.  A paper crown is provided to mark just that purpose.  In order to ensure fairness, the youngest child in the room typically sits under the table and indicates to whom each slice above is alotted.

The bean of course has long gone, and is now replaced by a small, porcelain figurine.

Our household celebrated its first galette last Christmas, and has of course jumped in again this year with both feet.  We have only one child, so it's relatively easy to rig the game so that he gets the fève and hence, the crown.

Though there is only one Epiphany per year, we are sure to celebrate with many galettes des rois this year, as we did last.  We've even selected our favourite baker who produces the best galette as well as the shop who supplies the best fèves.

Bonne année à tous.

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