Depending on where you hail from, the King Cake may or may not be a part of your family tradition… but it should! The King Cake is an excellent opportunity to remind oneself of the story of Jesus as it unfolds after the Bethlehem birth. The King Cake is also a perfect bridge into the season of Lent. Plus, it’s cake! … do we need any more reason to incorporate it into our family traditions?!

The King Cake celebrates the biblical kings (Magi) of Matthew who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a new newborn King swaddled under a Star in the East. The King Cake is a metaphor made in sugar and flour, baked aroun the world between January 6 (Ephinany, the traditional celebration of the arrival of the Magi) and Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras / Fat Tuesday) on the eve of Lent. So strong in the connection with the season of Ephinany that it is often referred to as an Epiphany Cake.

In the United States, the tradition of the King Cake was brought to New Orleans from France as early as the 18th century. It spread throughout the Gulf Coast region and remains explorably intertwined with local celebrations during January and February from Florida to Texas. The away from the coast, the less likely the region to celebrate with King Cake. This should change!

The King Cake is more than a garish example of Mardi Gras excess, it is a religious tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.

The traditional King Cake is baked into a circular or oval-shape. Some say that it is to symbolizing the kings’ crown. Others say the traditional shape is to portray the circular route take by the Magi in order to confuse King Herod, whose army was attempting to follow the Wise Men so that the Christ Child could be killed.

Either way, the confection is topped with sugar of three colors, representing the jeweled crown of a King: purple (representing Justice), green (representing Faith), and gold (representing Power). A baby is regularly inserted, symbolizing the baby Jesus. The one that finds it within their piece of cake is the King of the party! Many traditions include additional items such as dimes, beans, thimbles, etc., each with their own meaning.

For a family, the King Cake becomes an opportunity to talk about Jesus, the Magi, Epiphany, Lent, and Ash Wednesday in ways that are both meaningful and tangible.

The King Cake is a perfect opportunity to teach about the King of Kings. Click To Tweet

So bake (or buy) a King Cake, and feast on a metaphor that tastes as good as it teaches.

Use the King Cake as a bridge to explain how and why that baby King gave his life for the redemption of humanity. Then, use this open door to explain how the sacrifices we make during Lent are a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.


 

PRACTICE:  Serve up a King Cake and explain the symbolism to all who eat. Recipes here and here.

 

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Kevin holds a Doctor of Ministry in Semiotics and Future Studies from Portland Seminary, where his work on Early Church spiritual formation passed with the rare honor of exemplary distinction. He is also a graduate of Cedarville University and Dallas Theological Seminary, holding degrees in Biblical Studies, Visual Communications, and Church Educational Leadership. Kevin has served on ministry staffs in some of the largest churches across the United States and is currently the Senior Minister of JupiterFIRST Church in Jupiter, Florida. His most important role, though, is husband to Sally and dad to four of Generation Z’s youngest members: Libbie, Lucy, Harris, and Matthew.