Epiphany & Candlemas

  • © ATOUT FRANCE/Eric Larrayadieu

    © ATOUT FRANCE/Eric Larrayadieu

Epiphany & Candlemas



Celebrated on 6 January, Epiphany corresponds to the presentation of the baby Jesus to the Three Wise Men. This day is also that of the first miracle of the Wedding at Cana, but above all it is the date of the baptism of Christ. Since the 5th century, the Church has attached considerable importance to this event which is still celebrated around the world today.

According to tradition, Twelfth Night cake is eaten at Epiphany. A charm is hidden in the King's Cake (Galette des Rois) and the recipient of this lucky token becomes king for the day and is responsible for providing the next cake. This practice is said to have originated in the Saturnalias of Ancient Rome. The Romans used a similar token as a voting ballot to elect the king of the feast held as part of this festival. These tokens were replaced in 1870 by porcelain figurines. Formerly, tradition dictated that the cake be divided into as many pieces as there were guests, plus one. This last piece, known as "the Good Lord's Piece", "the Virgin's Piece" or the "Poor Man's Piece" was given to the first pauper to appear at the dwelling.

Epiphany signifies appearance: in this case, that of the Magi. These celebrations end on 8 January with this traditional cake, the Galette des Rois.

Very different from a puff pastry cake, the Provençal twelfth night cake is a type of brioche in the shape of a crown and garnished with crystallised fruits. In days gone by, it was common for the baker, with one eye on his future business, to offer the cake to his best customers.



Christmas traditions draw to a close on 2 February. This is the day on which the Christmas crib is taken down for another year. According to liturgical practices, Candlemas is the feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary.

Since Antiquity, the month of February (which comes from the Latin "februare", meaning "to purify") has been associated with the “new fire” and to the period of purification of nature as it prepares to emerge from winter. The days lengthen and with it comes a feeling of renewal. Linking its ideas of penitence with this pagan tradition, the church chooses to bless green candles, a colour which has always evoked the idea of purification. 

In Marseille, the Candlemas Festival continues to be celebrated in all its splendour.

Tradition also has it that Candlemas is the time for making pancakes, which should be tossed while holding gold in your left hand in order to maintain wealth and prosperity throughout the year.