French figures: The cake makes that makes you royalty for a day

French cakes are all pretty good, but only one confers actual (temporary) royalty on those who scoff it.

French figures: The cake makes that makes you royalty for a day
Photo: AFP

A festival wouldn't really be a festival without some kind of special cake, but the one traditionally served on January 6th in France is very special indeed.

January 6th marks the Christian festival of epiphany, when the three kings arrived to give their gifts to the baby Jesus. In more secular times it also marks the end of the delightful holiday period of eating, drinking and lazing about and the beginning of January diets, exercise and general good intentions.

While epiphany is a huge deal in Spain with parades and town festivals, in France it's a quieter affair – and not a public holiday. But it does have one special tradition – Galette des rois.

By tradition the president is not allowed to become the Epiphany king (because he already has quite enough power) so a different version of the cake is served at the Elysée Palace. Photo: AFP

This is a frangipane and pastry cake traditionally served on January 6th – usually with cider or champagne.

In homage to its royal tradition and name, the cake usually comes with a gold paper crown.

Hidden within the cake is a fève – traditionally a bean but these days more usually a ceramic or plastic charm.

The person who finds the fève in their slice gets to wear the crown and become the king or queen of the festival and is also apparently guaranteed good luck for the year ahead.

In some families, the cutting of the cake is a complex ritual that involves the youngest person present sitting under the table.

This article is part of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – every day until Christmas we will be presenting you with a person or object that has a particular significance to life in France. 


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French figures: The true spirit of France

This is the incredible story about the teenage girl who became a symbol of France for the ages.

French figures: The true spirit of France
Illustration photo: AFP

The story of Joan of Arc – Jeanne d'Arc in French – begun like many fairytales do: an unlikely hero is chosen to accomplish a dangerous task.

Born around 1412, Joan of Arc was an illiterate peasant girl convinced that divine powers had decided she would fight the English army in France. 

She then did exactly that. 

This was during the so-called Hundred Years’ War, when English troops battled for territory across the country that is now France.

Joan of Arc liberated Orléans city from English forces in a legendary and decisive battle that paved the way for the later French victory in 1453.

Joan of Arc paid for her heroism with her life. She was captured and sold her to the English army, who burned her at the stake in Rouen, northeast France, around 1431. She was approximately 19 years old at the time.

But her short life left a lasting mark on France and in 1920 she was made a Saint. Almost 600 years after her death she is still commemorated and celebrated in France and her spirit is invoked during difficult times for the country.

Known today as “the Maid of Orléans”, Joan of Arc's silhouette is all over the city, ingrained on medallions on the street, cast into sculptures and painted on the boxes of Cotignac, an Orléans culinary speciality.

READ ALSO: Ten reasons why you should visit the French city Orléans

This article is the final instalment of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – featuring every day a person or thing that has a special place in French culture. To see the whole calendar, click here.