Holiday Hangover

January 8, 2007 at 1:37 pm | Posted in food, vie quotidienne | 3 Comments

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years… The holiday season is dead and gone, with not a hint of revelry on the horizon until Valentine’s Day, right? Ah, but that’s because you don’t know about La Fête des Rois.

pastry bag

Even as a kid, I always thought of La Fête des Rois as a sort of “hangover holiday,” not because there’s any drinking involved, but because it seemed like a sort of nicotine patch for celebration addicts, allowing sugar-saturated kids a way to wean themselves slowly off the adrenaline rush of the holiday season.

Theoretically, this holiday exists in America, too — usually known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany. Officially, it marks the arrival of the three kings/wisemen in Bethlehem to worship the baby Jesus, but in most American households, it’s little more than a reminder to take down that tree before the living room carpet becomes completely obscured by pine needles.

In France, however, it’s a bonafide holiday with its own traditions — foremost of which is the Galette des Rois:

galette

This round, sweet puff pastry is usually filled with an almond paste called frangipane.

slice

The galettes used to be made with a ve or bean cooked inside, and whoever found the bean was made king for the night.

crown

Nowadays, the “fève” is usually a hunk of plastic in the shape of some totally inappropriate cultural icon.

Mme Agecanonix

As you can see from the label, this is Mme Agecanonix, a minor character from the much beloved Asterix comic books. Mme Agecanonix is a fictional character from a Pagan society — the status-hungry trophy-wife to the oldest man in town. What does she have to do with the Christ-child’s royal visitors? Beats me.

Even weirder was the fève from last year’s cake:

oscar

Who knew the French had even heard of the Academy Awards? I was happy, though: come February, it made a great cake-topper for my Oscar party.

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3 Comments

  1. I’m sure you and brumaire have already thought of this, but I’ve often wondered how directly La Fête des Rois and beans-in-galettes can be traced to old pagan customs of “oh, look, you had a bean in your cake, guess who’s king for a night… oh, yeah, and we sacrifice the king to make sure the sun stops receding and starts rising again, in case you didn’t remember… yeah, you can run, but our three best hunters will pursue you and make your innards gleam under the midwinter moon.”

    So yeah, blood and death, especially in the favorite festivities of childhood.

  2. Kari, like the vast majority of holidays in the Catholic calendar, there’s no question Twelfth Night has some pagan origins. The site I linked to up top says the feve is a symbol of fertility, which I guess makes as much sense as anything.

    Speaking of sacrificing the King, check out that same page for the strange history of the Galette des Rois during the French Revolution.

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