I just need to plunge right in, don’t I? It’s Thursday’s post on France and I promised to write about the Epiphany celebration where all of France (Europe? The Eastern Christian Churches?) eats the galette des rois. With alcoholic bubbling cider.
But I’m having trouble plunging right in because I’m distracted. I’m forlorn because my husband is in Minnesota (he just discovered the walkways that connect the buildings out of the blinding snow there and he’s really pumped about it). I’m also indecisive because I didn’t have time to walk my dog this morning and he keeps looking at me pointedly, but it’s really wet out. And I’m overwhelmed because my floors are covered in muddy bootprints and paw prints and I don’t know if it’s worth it to mop just yet or will they get muddy again? So you see why I’m distracted?
But a writer must write, even if it’s only because she promised to have a Thursday post on France or because she promised to let you know about all the book reviews and kind words that are being sprinkled over the blogosphere. In fact, let me tell you about one such review.
I don’t know how I found Andrea from About 100%, but one day she commented on my post. And when I went to check out her blog, I was in stitches at the unassuming way in which she writes. It takes real skill to keep your face deadpan when you’re telling a story, adding humour to the scenario by your completely impassive expression. It takes even more skill to do that in writing when you can’t even see a person’s face, and yet you’re swept up in the humour of (what you know is ) their blank stare and blinking eyelashes that accompany the words.
Andrea’s humour comes out in her crafting expeditions, her adventures in the kitchen, and the way she rocks at decorating. Seriously, even compiling this list (and it was really hard to select just three) had me giggling from all the memories of reading these posts for the first time.
And Andrea has been kind enough to review my book for me. She is giving away a copy of A Lady in France, and her review (complete with her own French story) is found here. I just know you will love Andrea.
Back to the Epiphany. The Christian take on things is that the wise men came to visit the baby Jesus twelve days after his birth, which falls on January 6th. Catholic tradition states that this was God’s manifestation to the gentiles, and it celebrates the first feast that is linked with Christianity.
As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, a porcelain figure, called a fève, is hidden in the galette des rois. To avoid the temptation of searching for it as the pieces are cut, tradition has it that the youngest member of the family (or guests) crawls under the table, and as each slice is cut, he calls out the name of somebody present and the slice goes to that person. He’s not able to see who gets what (or how big each slice is) and that renders the distribution more equal. The person who gets the fève is king for the day and they get to wear a paper crown.
Although, if you go back to the 13th century when the tradition started in France, the person who got the fève was supposed to declare someone else king or queen of the day and kiss them. Back then, they also cut the number of portions per guests present, plus one extra part (called The Virgin Mary’s part, or The Good God’s part). This would be given to the first poor person who had the fortune to pass by.
In keeping with modern times, the galette des rois that is cut on the Champs ELysées (where the president’s palace is) contains no fève since France is, most decidedly, not a monarchy. And we don’t need to elect a chief for the day, since we already have a chief. Unless, of course, he is unavailable because of his new mistress . . . But I digress.
If you go back a couple of centuries before that, this tradition was found in the Romans who celebrated 7 days of Saturnalia (winter solstice) by hiding a coin – gold or silver, depending on their wealth – in the bread to determine who would be elected as their chief for the day. Those who had no silver or gold coins would hide a white bean in the cake, and a bean, in French, is called . . . a fève! This Roman celebration was sort of an “anything goes” type of feast that also included masters switching roles with one of their servant’s for the day, and the possibility of reversing a death sentence should the condemned get the lucky draw.
People actually collect the fèves, and this hobby is called fabophilie. I got most of my information on this website, where you can also see a picture of what a real galette des rois should look like. In other words – much prettier than mine.
Head over to Tinne’s blog, who is located in Belgium, if you want to learn more about the related tradition of Lost Monday.
So I did it. I wrote an entire post. My floors aren’t clean yet. My long-suffering dog has resigned himself. I may or may not have taken a piece of the galette des rois out of the freezer to microwave and eat as I was typing this just for some inspiration. But in all my failures I took a step forward and accomplished something, and that, my friends, is nothing short of success.
What an epiphany!