Le Jour Des Rois

Delta Winds cover 1998Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Le Jour Des Rois

Gisèle Manceau

In France, on the first Sunday in January, we celebrate "Le Jour Des Rois" (The Day Of The Kings), also known as l'Epiphanie. It Is a holiday that everyone enjoys because it is known as the day when someone in the family will become "The King" (or The Queen).

The Jour Des Rois is a religious national holiday celebration that originated from the Bible. It is to commemorate the coming of the three wise men--Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar--who brought some gifts to the infant Jesus Christ. But, to the French people, this holiday is recognized as the day a special cake called "La Galette Des Rois" (The King's Tart) is eaten.

On the first Sunday in January, we buy "La Galette Des Rois" at the bakery store. La Galette is a flat, golden-brown cake about the size of a large pizza. It is made of a brioche dough that resembles a Danish dough. Hidden inside, there is small ceramic figure about 1 inch tall that needs to be found by a guest. The person who finds the ceramic figurine becomes the king of the day and wears a gold-toned paper crown.

We celebrate "Le Jour Des Rois" by having a big family gathering at a relative's house where we are all invited for that special Sunday brunch which is followed by leisurely activities and games for the children. Usually after brunch, which can last for hours because it is a big meal, it is time to eat La Galette Des Rois for dessert. In general when we reach that time, everybody is joyful, excited and ready to get that mysterious piece of cake where the ceramic figurine is hidden.

Usually, it is the hostess who cuts the cake and serves the guest, but first she asks the youngest child to go under the table where he/she will say aloud the name of each person to be served. The purpose of this traditional act is mostly to give the child some importance in participating in that event. When all the guests are served, then everyone eats. Some guests eat nicely, acting cool, while others look directly under the cake in case they see the mysterious object. The children are fun to watch. They are the most excited of all. They break the cake in tiny pieces to make sure that they have looked into every inch of it. Soon enough, someone is shouting, "I got it, I got it!" Then, the search is over. Everybody excitedly applauds and congratulates the winner. We now have a king (or Queen) who is going to wear the golden crown. Soon after the crowning, we all get a glass of champagne and cheer one another, except of course the children who instead have some soda to celebrate. After that, we are ready to listen to the speech that the new King/Queen has to make. It is the official invitation to go to his/her "Palace" for the next year's celebration where we all will have a great family day again.

Even though the religious meaning of this custom has somewhat faded, the family togetherness is still there. For most French people, Le Jour Des Rois is a time awaited for, because it is filled with lots of fun, joy and happiness, just like Christmas and Easter are, but with less stress on preparations and expenses. It is just a lovely, relaxing day in which the whole family plays an active role.