Some like to jump in a river, we prefer to eat cake! :) More precisely, something called: Galette des rois (kings cake). It's better than cake though with it's buttery, flaky, golden pastry and frangipane filling. Frangipane is a mild and sweet almond flavoured paste that is usually made with butter, eggs, sugar and ground almonds. It's good! It is definitely something I'm looking forward to. The kids look forward to the little ceramic trinket that is hidden inside. The person who gets the trinket in their slice, gets to be king (or Queen) and wear the crown! It's a tradition that is practiced by religious, not very religious and non practicing people. Well, French people. I can't speak for the rest of the world but I know others do it too with subtle differences. For us (usually), my mother comes for a visit around this time and buy the special treat in one of the special shops she finds on her way. We also get some bubbly. She couldn't make this week so I was willing to go without. It's not a Quebecer tradition so you won't find this in a grocery store or any bakery. A French person would easily have to learn to go without or bake their own (which is doable but not as simple as it looks).
That's when Marc surprised me! He took a chance and visited a little French deli down the main street that we rarely visit (mainly because it's out of our way). He thought that if a shop was going to sell some galette des rois, this would be it. He was right! They sell them! Yay! I have to be thankful that in this day and age, we can be spoiled with special shops who specialize in foods we usually wouldn't have access to. Time for me to encourage them and visit more often! ;) We don't have any bubbly or a fancy dinner to entertain us with (plain buttered noodles and a green salad is on the menu) but I will gladly take this with the girls to celebrate the closure of Christmas holidays. After today, we officially take the tree down. I'm ready!!
We mainly do the French tradition but I will always remember being around the age of 6 or 8 and dressing up as one of the Kings with my brother when we lived in Germany. I mainly remember the dressing up part and the crafty crowns. Oh how I loved those.
I'm going to shamelessly quote Wikipedia for further explaining since I'm running out of time... I only copied the French and German traditions. Those are the ones I can relate to but the rest of the countries mentioned in the "National and local customs" on this link are all interesting to read. If you find it boring, skip it but I find other people's cultures fascinating. I like all the differences and similarities.
"In France people share one of two types of king cake. In the northern half of France and Belgium the cake is called a galette des Rois, and is a round, flat, and golden cake made with flake pastry and often filled with frangipane, fruit, or chocolate. In the south, in Provence, and in the south-west, a crown-shaped cake or brioche filled with fruit called a gâteau des Rois is eaten. Both types of cake contain a charm, usually a porcelain or plastic figurine, called a fève (bean in French).
The cake is cut by the youngest (and therefore most innocent) person at the table to assure that the recipient of the bean is random. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes "king" or "queen" and wears a paper crown provided with the cake. This person has a choice between offering a beverage to everyone around the table (usually a sparkling wine or champagne), or volunteering to host the next king cake at their home. This can extend the festivities through all of January!]"
"In the German-speaking lands, groups of young people called Sternsinger (star singers) travel from door to door. They are dressed as the three Wise Men, plus the leader carrying a star, usually of painted wood attached to a broom handle. Often these groups are four girls, or two boys and two girls for the benefit of singing their songs in four-part harmony, not necessarily three wise men at all. German Lutherans often note in a lighthearted fashion that the Bible never specifies that the Weisen (Magi) were men, or that there were three. The star singers will be offered treats at the homes they visit, but they also solicit donations for worthy causes, such as efforts to end hunger in Africa, organized jointly by the Catholic and Evangelical-Lutheran churches. As a sign of gratitude, the young people then perform the traditional house blessing, by marking the year over the doorway with chalk. In Roman Catholic communities this may be a serious spiritual event with the priest present even today, but among Protestants it is more a tradition, and a part of the German notion of Gemütlichkeit. Usually on the Sunday following Epiphany, these donations are brought into churches. Here all of the children who have gone out as star singers, once again in their costumes, form a procession of sometimes dozens of wise men and stars. The German Chancellor and Parliament also receive a visit from the star singers at Epiphany."