Friday, March 09, 2007

King Cake

Early this year I bought a king cake. I told my Ohioan friends about it, and they had never heard of one.

Centuries ago, the church took a pagan treat and attached a higher meaning to the sweet. Traditions vary, but in some Eastern churches on Epiphany or Twelfth Night (after Christmas) a feast is held, celebrated on January 6th. The feast is in memory of “the appearance” of God’s son in human form and the visit of the kings from the East, the magi.

These feasts usually include a cake with a bean or trinket baked inside. Whoever gets the slice of cake with the trinket gets to be king of the feast. Early French settlers brought the king cake tradition to Louisiana, mostly a family celebration until after the Civil War. Afterwards, the cake became part of public feasts.

In the Southern United States the king cake is sold by bakeries from January to the beginning of Lent. Since the 1950s, the trinket most often added to the coffee cake like pastries is a small plastic baby. Some attach no significance to the trinket, while others see it as a symbol of the baby Jesus, carried over from Christmas celebrations.

I see the king cake as an opportunity to teach my grandchildren about the life of Christ and doing something for the sole benefit of others. Another tradition associated with the cake involves Southern hospitality: the one who finds the trinket in their piece has to throw a party and supply the next cake. In the south, schools, office workers, and society circles keep this tradition alive.

Of course, most partygoers are eager to get the piece of cake with the trinket. However, during the Great Depression, many southern mothers had limited resources and dreaded their child receiving the coveted trinket. Custom dictated the receiver furnish the cake for the next week’s school party.

I know our family is breaking protocol, but we’ve stretched the tradition. Our timeframe is from Christmas to Easter. When we ate our first King Cake with the grands, it opened an avenue to talk about Jesus, his birth, baptism, forty day fast, ministry, final sacrifice, and resurrection.

Watch for opportunities to engage your little ones in conversations about God. This week, I’ll help a grandchild bake another cake with a trinket inside, one to share with his siblings. We’ll talk about Jesus while stirring cake batter. When we divide up the cake, we’ll discuss what it means to make a place for Jesus in their lives. Each child longs to find the baby Jesus in their slice of cake.

Grandma longs for Jesus to be hidden in four young hearts.

“These commandments . . . are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along on the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

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