Bonne année ! Bonne année ! Bonne année ! I think I’ve heard it 500 times. At church on New Years Day, every person not only greeted me with a typical hello, but also a cheerful “Bonne Année ! Meilleurs Voeux!” Best wishes for the new year. I heard it over and over again. It felt excessive. I consulted my favorite French teacher (also known as my patient copain... he answers my ridiculously specific grammar questions and for compensation, I give him American candy–which he never actually likes*) and he told me that I have a whole month worth of bonne années ahead of me. Anytime I encounter someone throughout January who I haven’t seen since 2015, I’m expected to wish them a Happy New Year and continue down an exhaustive list of best wishes, good health, happy family, and other kind hopes for the new year. It’s equally sweet and exhausting. My response now is much kinder than my initial one to the deluge of blessings wished upon me twenty times when I got to school Monday morning. I replied with an uncertain “uhhh merci ?” the first time I was wished a laundry list of blessings. If you’re looking for a good start to the new year, France has got you covered.
So part of ringing in the New Year is the distinctly French traditional holiday, L’Epiphanie ou La Fête des Rois (The Festival of the Kings). Traditionally on the first Sunday of January, this holiday celebrates the magi who visited Jesus and brought him gifts when he was born. The French eat la galette des rois (a French teacher recited the whole recipe to me the other day since they’ve been serving it at lunch all week). The galette** itself depends a bit on the region (seriously, my colleagues keep me informed on these things), but here (and most popularly) it’s a delicious flaky cake (think croissant texture) with an almond paste on the inside.
The fun part about the galette des rois is that there’s a surprise inside the cake! You slice the cake then the youngest person in the room hides under the table and without looking, decides who gets which piece (can’t have any cheaters!). So you all indulge in your cake and whoever finds la fève (the surprise) gets to be the king or queen for the day. Someone at school made a crown last year for the occasion and it was brought out again today. About fifteen of my colleagues made sure to give me the whole history (you can look it up yourself). I took a piece randomly and thought to myself, “Gosh I hope I don’t get the fève…” The cake is so delicious! Flaky and simple and rich. I was enjoying my slice and suddenly bit down into something hard and realized it wasn’t cake. I thought to myself, “Dang it…” I scooted next to one of the teachers I’m good friends with and showed her the little magi head sticking out of my galette. Isa yelled, “Tu es la reine !” (You’re the queen!) I cracked up. Of course… so I was crowned with the ridiculous crown and we all had a good laugh. I chose to wear it intermittently throughout the afternoon but took it off to teach about “Shops and Places” in America.
I simultaneously love and roll my eyes at the fact that France has a holiday practically once a week and they each involve elaborate traditions and specific foods. But I’m incredibly grateful to be surrounded by the best French people who eagerly share their traditions and culture with me. Especially on days like today when I get to wear a crown.
*This fact is potentially my fault since I tend to offer him things like twizzlers and sweet tarts. Hey, it’s my childhood.
**The name galette comes from the French word “galet” which is a small flat stone used for skipping rocks. (Thanks to the teacher I carpooled home with today for this random fact.)