Christmas in some European countries kicks off 12 more days of religious observance — the famous Twelve Days of Christmas. They end today (January 6) with the Epiphany holiday, when the Three Wise Men were said to have finally brought their gifts to the baby Jesus.
France, not surprisingly, celebrates Epiphany in an edible way. For several days from Christmas until the Feast of Epiphany, the French line up at bakeries to buy the galette des rois — the “Cake of Kings.” They bring these to dinner parties, and enjoy them as snacks and with mid-afternoon tea. The tradition of the treats dates back to the 14th century.
What’s the reason for this enormous amount of pastry consumption? (Although honestly, who needs a reason to eat pastry?) Inside each galette hides a tiny trinket, usually made of porcelain. While these once had religious significance, today they range from miniature paintings of Picasso’s Guernica or Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to figurines of Zorro or even Harry Potter. The trinkets hidden inside each galette are called fèves, named for the fava beans that were the original prizes. Today, fèves are highly collectible.
Traditionally, the cake is cut while the youngest child at the table designates who will get each piece (so there’s no cheating). Everyone takes careful bites of the pastry until someone finds the fève. The excited winner gets the fève, as well as a golden paper or plastic crown that tops the cake — and becomes king or queen for the day.
In Italy, Epiphany is the time of La Befana, the legendary Good Witch of Christmas, who gives gifts to children. Find out more about La Befana.