Though I've lived in Texas now for quite a while, I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and hold a special place in my heart for the state where I was born. Louisiana is a gumbo of people, cultures and traditions from France, Spain Africa, England, Germany, Italy, American Indian and more. One of our favorite Louisiana traditions is the King Cake, a tri-colored, rather oddly-shaped confection at first glance. The cake is not like other cakes. King Cakes are not really cakes at all, but more akin to bread. And they're delicious!
Why are they called King Cakes? The royal name is taken from the three kings in the bible, the kings who visited the baby Jesus to honor and offer homage to Him. The Catholic Epiphany is commemorated on January 6th and celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. the eve of the Epiphany (January 5th) is known as Twelfth Night and the twelve days of Christmas are counted from Christmas Eve to this night.
The Mardi Gras season begins from the end of the twelve days of Christmas up to Mardi Gras day or "Fat Tuesday" as it is also known. Fat Tuesday is the the before the start of Lent. The tradition is more or less a last hurrah before the lenten season, a solemn time of self-denial and prayerful introspection.
Mardi Gras on the other hand, is a day set aside for excess and indulgence. And King Cake is quite an indulgence. Many people like to throw King Cake parties or bring them to work or school to share with everyone. Indulging in a King Cake is also like a game of Russian Roulette (with less dire consequences), for hidden somewhere within the circle is a little plastic baby. People who are familiar with the cake know not to bite hard into one. This is a cake to be nibbled at--carefully. Any bite might turn up the baby, and that baby symbolizes the baby Jesus. The baby also indicates that YOU must buy the next King Cake to share, a tradition that some believe originated in Portugal.
Most people are good sports about it and dutifully pick up the next cake. But some people, and you know who you are, remedy this situation buy hiding the baby in their mouth or discretely placing it into a napkin. These cheapskates always want a piece of King Cake, but never want to go to the bother or expense of picking one up.
Though some of the bakeries I used to favor as a source for King Cakes are no longer in business thanks to Hurricane Katrina, I'm still fond of Gambino's Bakery (see picture above), and Randazzo's. Curiously enough, a small bakery in Mississippi named Paul's is the first bakery to incorporate fillings in the cakes--cream cheese, strawberry, apple, etc.--now a popular addition, though not traditional.
But no matter what kind of King Cake you favor, the tradition is the best part about indulging. The King Cake is a social and cultural icon in Louisiana. I've ended up with very many King Cake babies over the years. At a loss as to what to do with them all, I collected them from all the drawers, pencil boxes and other places they wound up and decided to display them in a plant on my window sill. A real conversation starter, my King Cake Baby Plant is as unconventional as the holiday itself. And I love it!
Linda Kozar is the co-author of Babes With A Beatitude—Devotions For Smart, Savvy Women of Faith (Hardcover/Ebook, Howard/Simon & Schuster 2009) and author of Misfortune Cookies (Print, Barbour Publishing 2008), Misfortune Cookies, A Tisket, A Casket, and Dead As A Doornail, (“When The Fat Ladies Sing Series,” eBooks, Spyglass Lane Mysteries, 2012). Her latest novel Strands of Fate released October 2012 (Hardcover/Ebook, Creative Woman Mysteries). She received the ACFW Mentor of the Year Award in 2007, founded and served as president of Writers On The Storm, The Woodlands, Texas ACFW chapter for three years. In 2003, she co-founded, co-directed and later served as Southwest Texas Director of Words For The Journey Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband Michael, married 24 years, have two lovely daughters, Katie and Lauren and a Rat Terrier princess named Patches.
Represented by: Wendy Lawton, Books & Such Literary Agency
Member of: CAN (Christian Authors Network), RWA (Romance Writers of American), WHRWA (West Houston Romance Writers of America), ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), Writers On The Storm, The Woodlands, Texas Chapter of ACFW, Toastmasters (Area 56) The Woodlands, Texas, The Woodlands Church, The Woodlands, TX.