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Epiphany ‘s King Cake / Galette des rois

December 5, 2011

A king cake (sometimes rendered as kingcake, kings’ cake, king’s cake, or three kings cake) is a type of cake associated with the festival of Epiphany in the Christmas season in a number of countries, and in other places with the pre-Lenten celebrations of Mardi Gras / Carnival. It is popular in the Christmas season (Christmas Eve to Epiphany) in France, Belgium, Quebec and Switzerland (galette or gâteau des Rois), Portugal (bolo rei), Spain and Spanish America (roscón or rosca de reyes and tortell in Catalonia), Greece and Cyprus (vasilopita) and Bulgaria (banitsa). In the United States, which celebrates Carnival mainly in the Southeastern region (Louisiana and New Orleans in particular), it is associated with Mardi Gras traditions.

The cake has a small trinket (often a small plastic baby, said to represent Baby Jesus) inside, and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations (such as buying the cake for the next celebration).

Trinkets (Feves) even have their own Museum in France:

With a collection of over 20 000 Tinkets or Feves, the Museum of Blain is the only museum of the Feve in France. (for more information see )


The “king cake” takes its name from the biblical three kings. Catholic tradition states that their journey to Bethlehem took five days (the Twelve Days of Christmas), and that they arrived to honor the Christ Child on Epiphany. The season for king cake extends from the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas (Twelfth Night and Epiphany Day), through to Mardi Gras day. Some organizations or groups of friends may have “king cake parties” every week through the Carnival season.

Absent of the gospel, traditional names of Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar appear only much later, for the first time in a manuscript of the sixth century


During the Saturnalia (Roman festivals at the end of December and the beginning of January), the Romans designated a slave as “King for a Day”. Indeed, the Saturnalia was a festival of role reversal to defeat the unlucky days of Saturn, chthonic deity. During the banquet (at the beginning or the end of the Saturnalia, according to different periods of ancient Rome) within each major familia, the Romans used the bean cake as a “ballot” to elect “Saturnalicius princeps “(Master of the Saturnalia, or King of the disorder). This allowed to strengthen the domestic affections and gave the “king for a day” the power to fulfill all his desires during the day (such as giving orders to his master) before being put to death, or more likely to return servile to his life after this one. To ensure a random distribution of shares of cake, it was customary for the youngest stands under the table and the beneficiary named on the part that was designated by the person in charge of the service (hence the use of still alive “draw the kings “)

Le gâteau des Rois, by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1774 (Musée Fabre)

In Hong kong you can order your King’s Cake, the famous “Galette des Rois” on French gourmet online food shop:

Monty Python Life of Brian – 3 Wise Men

Les Inconnus

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