A while back, I mentioned (here) how interesting, fun, but also challenging it is to include cultural ways and habits that our children pick up in our host country into our family culture. Today, I want to share how living in another culture also means having to let go of some of the rituals we, as parents, grew up with. In this instance, la Galette des Rois.
On January 6, day of the Epiphany, the Magi (Rois Mages, in French – los Reyes Magos, in Spanish) visit Jesus, and the three Kings are traditionally added to the Nativity scene. (for those who have not read my essay “A Wish for 2010,” in TigerPapers, you can find it here, and it will explain how the Hindu God, Ganesh, and Buddha, came to watch over baby Jesus, in the picture below.)
Following a tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages, the Epiphany is celebrated with a special cake : la galette des rois (the Kings’ cake). And for years (ever since I left France) I’ve been grumbling, usually right after I’ve eaten the last bit of the bûche de Noël, (if we had one, and if we didn’t, right after I spent a couple of weeks grumbling about not being able to eat bûche – see picture above) about missing the galette and the lovely ritual associated with it.
The galette des rois is a puff pastry dessert filled with frangipane, which contains a trinket called “la fève”, usually a china figurine that can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character. We ask the youngest child in the family to hide under the table, and to say the name of the guest to which each slice will be given. The person who finds “la fève” becomes the King or the Queen, and is given a golden paper crown.
Of course, I could have learned to bake a galette des rois (per my good friend Valérie, in New York, whose success is such, she actually got her own article in the New York Times Sunday edition if you please) and thus not only managed to maintain this lovely tradition in our family, but also saved my husband a lot of mumbling about how much I missed it. Thing is, the less time I spend in a kitchen, the better for everyone (OK, that’s an exaggeration; truth is, I hate cooking) so we simply managed our lives without the galette.
But this year, I found out that I could get the much-coveted and dreamed about dessert at one of the fancy hotel’s pastry shop, in Hyderabad. Oh, immeasurable joy !
I invited two couples of friends and their children to come on Saturday 9th, so they could discover, and partake in this French tradition. But the Epiphany being on January 6, which this year was a Wednesday, I soon devised a plan that would allow me to indulge not once, but twice : we would first introduce our daughters to the ritual as a family, on Wednesday, and then, we would do it again with our friends on Saturday. It was perfect. (By the way, the only time I ate galette in the past ten years was the last time we spent our Christmas holidays in France, when our oldest daughter was 18 months old. She does not remember any of it, but being the youngest child, she was the one supposed to hide under the table. Only, she burst into tears because she could not understand why anyone would want to send her UNDER the table, when the lovely looking dessert was sitting ON it. Retrospectively, I wonder if I shouldn’t have taken this as an omen, and not a good one.)
So : First galette is ordered for Wednesday, and on said day, I rush to pick up our youngest one from a play-date, and drive to said fancy hotel, manage to get lost on the way (it opened recently in an area with lots of construction going on, and forget about address), and the kids are tired, overexcited, and being at their monkey worst. Why is it that children always know how to pick up the worst times to misbehave, like when Mom is in a rush, and driving in the Indian chaotic traffic, I’ll never know. (And those who live or know India, pick up the pleonasm in the previous sentence, please?) But by the time we reach home, I’m a human bomb about to explode. Definitely not in an Epiphany kind of spirit, if you see what I mean.
To make a long story short, both children managed to make said human bomb explode, and when it did, the result was that they were sent to bed without dessert. Yep, that’s how witchy-mean I can get. My husband and I shared the galette – I was so angry, by then, there was no way I was going to wait until the following day to taste the much-fantasied-about dessert. Of course, we could not eat the whole cake, and neither of us got the “fève.” We thought it was just as well, as one of the children would get it the following day. Only, when they finally sat to eat it, on Thursday afternoon, the older one tried one bite, did something funny with her mouth, and said : “Mom, I don’t like it.” And the younger one took one look, poked her finger in the crust, and declared : “I don’t want it.”
End of story ? Almost there.
As it turns out, the galette did not even have a fève !!! So, the way I see it, it was a good thing that I was so greedy, or I would have waited until Saturday when all our friends were here, and we would have all looked and looked and looked for a lucky charm that was never there in the first place. Our friends did come, but we ended up eating delicious Thai chicken satay and ice-cream. I suppose I can now forget about the tradition of the galette. At least until my children learn to like frangipane.