NEW YEAR'S TRADITIONS IN FRANCE - LA GALETTE DES ROIS — L'île Aux Fées (2024)

January 03, 2021 January 03, 2021/ Sybille de La Presle


Christmas may now be over but it’s definitely not the end of our celebrations in France. The “Galette des Rois” is one of the French’s favorite traditions to start the year.

What is it exactly and how is it celebrated?

NEW YEAR'S TRADITIONS IN FRANCE - LA GALETTE DES ROIS — L'île Aux Fées (1)

A little vocabulary

Meaning King's cake, it must not be confused with the famous galette bretonne, the brown pancake from Brittany usually eaten with ham, cheese and an egg on top. Also named galette, it is the salted version of crêpes and served all year around in “crêperies”.

We call the act of sharing the Kings’ cake “tirer les rois”. This literally means “to draw the kings”. Indeed according to tradition, the youngest member of the family or smallest host, must go under the table. He is the one who decides whom will get each slice. Whoever finds the charm hidden in the cake becomes the King or the Queen and names his Queen or her King. The galettes des rois most often comes with a paper crown worn by “the majesty” all day!

The little charm is called “la fève” which means bean. It was initially a real dry bean which is a symbol of good luck and fertility because it is the first vegetable to grow in Spring after the winter solstice. Yet as the centuries go by, it is evolving. Nowadays it is frequently made of porcelain and some are highly sought after. They used to represent members of the Nativity scene but are now of all sorts. There is even a museum dedicated to the fèves in Blain.

Date of celebration

La galette des Rois is eaten in January and traditionally on Epiphany. It celebrates the coming of the Three Wise Men, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar who followed the bright star which led them to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. For a long time, Epiphany was on the 6th of January, 12 days after Christmas because it is said the kings’ journey lasted 12 days.

However today it is often celebrated on the first Sunday of January and has become part and parcel of French families’ traditions whatever their beliefs and religion. It is an opportunity to gather together at the start of the year. It is frequent to draw the Kings several times during the month, with friends, families and sometimes even work colleagues.

Story of the Galette des Rois

NEW YEAR'S TRADITIONS IN FRANCE - LA GALETTE DES ROIS — L'île Aux Fées (2)

If the Galette is mainly associated to Catholic rituals, it is said its origin are even older. Sun-shaped cake, it could be linked to Roman festivals around the God Saturn related to winter solstice.

It began to be celebrated in France around the 14th century by all layers of the population. Families would always cut the cake in slices equal to the number of guests plus one, leaving an extra for the poor who could ring at the door.

Under King Louis XIII, the ladies of court could draw the Kings and the one to find the charm could achieve a favor from the King. But Louis XIV soon abolished it.

The story also says that during this same period, began a new tradition of “Le roi qui boit”, the king who drinks. Basically the one who found the charm had to pay drinks to everyone. To avoid being trapped, the stingiest would swallow the bean. That’s how it came to be replaced by porcelain!

Every year, a huge galette des Rois (1,2m diameter for about 150 people) is shared at the Palais de L’Élysée with the president and guests of honor. The baker, however, is specifically asked not to put a fève inside to avoid embarrassment. It would not be appropriate to crown a king in a presidential palace...

Type of cake

The galette des Rois typically has a round shape and is made of light flaky butter puff pastry filled with frangipane. It is closer to a tart than a cake.

The frangipane filling is basically a cream made of ground almonds, butter, egg and sugar. Yet each year bakers and chefs innovate and show their creativity by inventing new recipes. From one region or city to another the cake can vary too. For example in Bordeaux, it is a brioche topped with candied fruit and coarse sugar.

Fairly easy to make, it is great fun to cook at home with children but you will also find galettes of all sizes and types in absolutely every boulangerie!

It is frequently eaten with a glass of Champagne!

Recipes

Traditional French galette des Rois recipe

Galette des Rois with lemon filling

Mini chocolate galette des Rois with chocolate

Chocolate and candied orange galette des rois

The best galette des rois of 2021

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FAQs

What is the tradition of the galette des rois? ›

The galette des rois is a cake traditionally shared at Epiphany, on 6 January. It celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem. Composed of a puff pastry cake, with a small charm, the fève, hidden inside, it is usually filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar.

How to celebrate galette des rois? ›

Tradition dictates that when serving galette des rois, the entire cake should be divided such that each guest receives a slice, plus an extra, symbolic slice for any unexpected visitor, or poor person, that should pass by.

What happens when someone finds the fève in their piece of the galette? ›

Customarily, each galette contains a hidden fève (a porcelain trinket), and the lucky person who finds a fève will be crowned queen or king. The Galette des Rois is a long-standing French tradition, starting sometime in the 14th century.

What are France's new year's traditions? ›

The heart of French New Year's Eve celebrations lies in the Réveillon feast. Families and friends come together for a sumptuous dinner that often extends into the early hours of the morning. The meal is a grand affair, featuring an array of delicacies such as oysters, foie gras, seafood, and champagne.

What is a fun tradition for families while eating galette des rois? ›

We call the act of sharing the Kings' cake “tirer les rois”. This literally means “to draw the kings”. Indeed according to tradition, the youngest member of the family or smallest host, must go under the table. He is the one who decides whom will get each slice.

What are some fun facts about galette des rois? ›

Fun Facts. The French president is not allowed to play the “Galette des Rois” game. A giant 1.2m galette is prepared for the Elysée each year but the pastry chef is not allowed to bake a fève into it. This is because it's considered inappropriate for a king to be crowned in the presidential palace.

What do you do on La Fete des Rois? ›

A traditional French holiday, la Fête des Rois (Feast of the Kings) is a festive event and an opportunity for families to gather for some delicious Galette des Rois (King's cake). Children will enjoy fun activities while the galettes are warming up in the oven, then we will all enjoy a generous slice of the cake!

What is often hidden in La Galette des Rois? ›

The goal being that everyone is hoping to 'win' the Roi/King – which in these days is a small porcelain figure hidden within the cake itself. This is a tradition that dates back to the Romans and Middle Ages where the prize was a bean.

What do you hide in galette des rois? ›

Whatever your style, the most important part of the tradition is to hide a little trinket called a fève inside while baking, whoever finds the fève is king or queen for the day!

What do the French drink while eating the galette des rois? ›

Galettes and wines: slightly gourmet matches

Opt for a lively and young wine, based on Chardonnay, or a sparkling wine like the Crémant d'Alsace or the Crémant de Bourgogne.

What do they eat on la fête de rois? ›

Like most French festivals, it has its very own traditional food, in this case a special cake called “la Galette des Rois”. There is a ceremony to eating the cake. The youngest child goes under the table where they direct the distribution of the pieces of cake.

What to serve with galette des rois? ›

Of course, we'll start with a dry white wine such as a Loire chenin for example, or a round chardonnay. These are natural wines that often go well with fish, but they will also go very well with your galette des rois. Plain sparkling wines can also be a very good match for your galette des rois.

What do French eat for the New Year? ›

Classic French New Year's Eve Menu:
  • Champagne.
  • Oysters.
  • Caviar.
  • Salmon.
  • Foie Gras.
  • Charcuterie.
  • Cheese.
  • Macarons.
Dec 28, 2023

What do French people do for fun? ›

Sports and recreation

Certainly organized sport has a place in French society, however, with cycling, swimming, football (soccer), skiing, tennis, boules (pétanque), and, increasingly, golf, basketball, and martial arts being the most popular activities.

What are New Year's gifts called in French? ›

New French Vocabulary
December 31le 31 décembre
New Year's Dayle jour de l'An, le Nouvel An
New Year's resolutionune bonne résolution
New Year's giftsdes étrennes
fireworksles feux d'artifice
19 more rows

Why is the galette eaten on January 6th? ›

In France, the slightly more restrained Galette des Rois is enjoyed on January 6th in celebration of the Epiphany, said to mark the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem. Families come together on or around this date to share their galette, into which is baked a small ceramic baby charm (the “fève”).

How does the tradition of the king's cake work? ›

Hidden in its interior, or under a slice, is a small plastic baby. Whoever finds it must either bring the next cake or throw a party, thus sparking an unending round of food and fun. Whether at the workplace, school or home - king cake is a gift that keeps on giving throughout the Mardi Gras season.

What is the trinket hidden inside the galette des rois? ›

Celebrating Kings Day with a flaky and delicious Galette des Rois has been a tradition dating back centuries, and hiding a cute little trinket called a "fève" inside is the most fun part!

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