Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Art of Celebration

 I believe in celebrating.

 When the girls were young, we celebrated all sorts of holidays and special occasions.  We made an effort to have at least one fun celebration a month.  Some were easy like Christmas and Thanksgiving.  Others we had to dig a little deeper for like Guy Fawkes day.  We would invent food or activities to support the event.  

One of our regular celebrations was Epiphany, one of the Christian feast days.  It is sometimes called Twelfth Night or Kings Day.  It falls on the 6th of January or on a Sunday close to that date. It commemorates the three Wise Men finding the baby Jesus.  It took them the 12 days of Christmas to follow the star to make their way from far away to the stable in Bethlehem.  Or so the story goes. 

When the girls moved to Louisiana, they found that Epiphany was an even bigger deal down there.  It was the start of the Mardi Gras season.  Where we had been celebrating Mardi Gras as a mere day, the folks down there had a whole season of celebration. 

 The New Orleans tradition, begun in the 1870s, borrows heavily from European ideas.    As part of the celebration of Mardi Gras, it is traditional to bake an oval cake, actually more like a sweet bread, in honor of the three kings - the King Cake. The shape of a King Cake symbolizes the unity of faiths. Each cake is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple represents justice, green represents faith and gold represents power. A small trinket shaped like a baby, symbolizing the baby Jesus, is hidden inside each cake.  

King Cake parties are held throughout the Mardi Gras season. In offices, classrooms, and homes throughout Louisiana, King Cakes are sliced and enjoyed by all. Like the biblical story, the "search for the baby" adds excitement, as each person waits to see in whose slice of cake the baby will be discovered. While custom holds that the person who finds the baby in their slice will be rewarded with good luck, that person is also traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering. 

I have adopted the celebration and bring a cake to work every year.  Our cakes are watered down somewhat from the New Orleans tradition.  They aren’t sweet bread usually, and the gaudy colors are missing.  In fact, we can have anything baked you can hide the ‘baby’ in.  The basic rule is  if you aren’t willing to bring in another cake should you get the baby, then you can’t eat a piece of cake.  It's amusing to watch how people slice the cake, some desparatly trying not to get the baby. 

If you missed the opportunity to celebrate Kings Day, it's not too late.  The cakes are good throughout the season until Mardi Gras in February. 

A good listing of holidays and events can be found here  from the University of Kansas Medical Center. 

Whatever you're celebrating.  Have fun!  That’s Renaissance Living!

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