We got back from skiing last night and went to a Twelfth Night party. It was the first time we had a galette, the traditional French tart baked with a fève inside. Our hosts made their own, which is unusual. Basically, no one bakes in France. It's too easy to go to the local pâtissier.
The custom is for the youngest child present to go under the table and call out people's names as the galette is divided up. The person who is given the slice with the fève is then king or queen of the evening.
"C'est toujours moi qui a le fève," said Maxime, confidently, before he even stuck his fork into his slice. Sure enough, the fork hit something hard and he pulled out a little porcelain figure of the Mère Michel (a French nursery-rhyme figure who loses her cat. Tragically, the père Lustucru tells her he has sold the cat as rabbit meat. You can hear the song here). He did not put the crown on his head.
Bakeries compete with each other over the fèves, which were originally beans (fève means bean). A lot of people collect fèves, as you can see at French flea markets. I don't collect them but I don't throw them away. On the bottom of each fève I write the date and who won it. Over the years we have amassed a large collection of fèves that includes Astérix le Gaulois, the Virgin Mary, a crown that is also a ring (designed by Inès de la Fressange), and various figures of the Christmas crèche.
Not many Americans know this, but there is an old Epiphany tradition in Louisiana, too. A King Cake is baked with a "baby" inside. The person who finds it is then the King. Twelfth Night marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras season. In New Orleans, Christmas and Mardi Gras celebrations take all the time between Thanksgiving and Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent.
Twelfth Night also means it's time to take the Christmas tree down. So sad!