Every year, on the 6th of January, millions of littlest kids in Francophone families sit under a table and call out the distribution order of the cut King’s cake. As the pieces of the Galette des Rois are allocated, excitement mounts. Who will ultimately get the piece that contains the fève? The fève is literally and traditionally a bean, but in modern times, it’s a ceramic in the shape of just about anything – we’ve had babies, presents, Christmas trees. The person who gets it becomes royalty, king or queen, and chooses a partner. I heard that about half of the parents were surveyed confessed to rigging the system so the kids become the kings and queens. Guilty!
I also heard that in New Orleans, the Galette des Rois is celebrated any time between the Epiphany on the 6th and Mardi Gras and whoever gets the fève – apparently always a baby there – must buy the cake for the following year of the Mardi Gras celebrations. Sounds fair!
Epiphany is a time for feasting in Western Christianity, and for commemorating the visit of the magi – the Three Kings or Three Wise men - who legendarily came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Accounts vary from whether it was to celebrate the birth of Jesus or the apparition of God, but the latter version of the story is responsible for the more common use of the word, epiphany to mean, sudden inspiration
Sudden inspirations make me think of Zen renegade monk Ikkyu Sojun, who, according to popular folklore, had them frequently. It turns out that the well-loved Buddhist monk Ikkyu actually existed in the early 15th Century but he was made popular in 17th to early 18th Century Edo Japan before he was cemented forever more into the minds of the Japanese by the popular TV animation series, Ikkyusan in the ‘70s. For those of you who have lived as long as I have to have known the Ikkyusan series, what were your favourite epiphanies?
Happy Galette des Rois for those of you who abide by northern French traditions, and Happy Gateau des Rois for those who like the southern candied-fruit variety. And for everyone else, happy Ikkyu-style epiphanies!