It’s Kings’ cake!
For decades I have observed the erosion of our religious traditions, our Judeo-Christian heritage and our history and culture. One small aspect of this is our celebration of the Feast of the Magi – the Twelfth Day of Christmas, the Epiphany, the arrival of the three kings from the East.
As a child, I looked forward to the day when the beautiful Kings’ cake was placed on the table, richly decorated in purple (royalty), gold (riches) and green (faith), heralding the arrival of the newborn King. I knew I would not see another delicious Kings’ cake until the next year.
The French tradition of serving “la Galette des Rois” dates back to the 14th century. The day also marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, and the colors were later adopted as the colors of Mardi Gras.
Hidden in the cake was a treasure: originally a bead, perhaps a nut, and, here, a pecan. In the mid-1900s, the small plastic baby, the symbol of the baby Jesus, was introduced. Today it is called “the doll,” with no reference to the Baby Jesus.
The Kings’ cake is now called a “king cake,” associated with the kings of the various Mardi Gras organizations. “King cake” is sold for months after the Feast of the Magi, even into Lent, and all religious significance has been lost on the current generation. “La Galette des Rois” has been taken over by the pagan festivities of Mardi Gras, and another Christian observance has been lost to our culture.
Even the translation has been lost. The cake of “les Rois” – the “Three Kings” – is plural. Who today remembers Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar from India, Persia and Arabia? Rather than commemorating the Magi, the cake is now considered a tribute to the Mardi Gras “roi du jour,” be it the king of Proteus or Babylon or whoever is parading at the time.
Bakeries sell “king cakes” by the thousands. They’re shipped all over the country for weeks after the Feast of the Magi – with the recipients thinking they’re enjoying a Mardi Gras cake. They have no idea that it was originally associated with the Feast of the Three Kings or that “the doll” hidden inside represents the Baby Jesus.
Christmas, in its new form as Xmas, has been absorbed by the general term “holidays”; the Christmas tree is now a “holiday tree”; and St. Niklaus has lost out to Frosty the Snowman. At the rate that we are losing our religious heritage and culture, we may soon see “king cake” served at Thanksgiving, and New Orleanians will be giving thanks to Drew Brees that the Saints are having a winning season. Sean Payton will be celebrated as “king” of the day.
It is most disturbing to see our religious heritage subsumed by secularism, atheism and commercialism. Christianity is under attack, particularly Catholicism. This letter is my attempt to bring awareness to this subtle encroachment on our religious history.