If you are from The South, especially near New Orleans, there's a good chance you've eaten a King Cake. King Cakes are traditionally eaten during Mardi Gras, the period between Epiphany and Lent. The cake is a brioche-style cake similar to a giant cinnamon roll with a delicious, sweet glaze.
To understand the significance of the King Cake, you need to backtrack. To Christmas. That's right. Just when you thought you finally got your last ornament tucked away. It's back! If December 25th is the First Day of Christmas (thing Partridge in a Pear Tree) then January 6th is the 12th Day of Christmas. On the Christian Church calendar, this day is also known as Epiphany, or King's Day. King's Day is the day when the Christian Church celebrates the Wise Mens' (or the Three Kings') journey to see baby Jesus.
The King Cake tradition in the United States is believed to have begun with French settlers around the year 1870. These French settlers were continuing a custom dating back to the Twelfth Century in France when a similar cake was used to celebrate the coming of the Magi (or Kings) who bore gifts for the Christ Child. As a symbol of this holy day, a tiny plastic baby (symbolic of baby Jesus) is placed inside the cake. It is hidden because The Kings had to search for the baby Jesus. The round shape of the cake portrays the circular route taken by the Magi in order to confuse King Herod. At the time, his army was attempting to follow the Wise Men so that the Christ Child, who Herod viewed as a threat to his throne, might be killed.
The cake is decorated with colored sugar in the traditional Mardi-Gras colors of purple (symbolizing Justice), green (symbolizing Faith) and gold (symbolizing Power). This colorful topping is representative of a jeweled crown in honor of The Three Wise Men who visited the Christ Child on Epiphany.
In places such as New Orleans, King's Day also marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras (or Carnival) season which culminates on the day before Ash Wednesday. This day is called Mardi Gras which is French for Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday refers to the practice of "the last chance" to eat richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. Now don't be confused. The practice of "Mardi Gras" is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Fat Tuesday is a tradition which was started in the 1700's, brought from France to New Orleans as an excuse to "overindulge" before the "fast" of the Lenten season. The Lenten season starts on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days until Easter.
So there you have The King Cake - a delicious, colorful cake with story to tell.
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