(I had intended on posting this last week, on January 6, but ran into delays as I was switching my web hosting.)
When my husband and I were living in France, one of our favorite new traditions was the celebration of Epiphany, the Church’s appointed day to commemorate the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. Epiphany falls the day after the twelfth day of Christmas – yes, the same twelfth day of Christmas that brings us the 12 drummers drumming – and signals the official end to the Christmas season.
While we enjoyed learning about the spiritual significance of both Epiphany and The Twelve Days of Christmas, what we really liked about Epiphany was seeing all the bakery windows lined with les Galettes des Rois. As if celebrating and eating our way through the entire month of December weren’t enough, there we would go, carrying on feasting on Kings’ Cakes right through the whole Epiphany season as well! From January 6 through February 2 we would look for any excuse to make an extra stop into the boulangerie, just to buy a fresh galette.
The Christmas my first son was born, my parents came over to Paris to care for us and stayed most of the month of January. My father, who has a special affection for the French, undoubtedly due to having participated in their liberation in 1944, was particularly captivated by these round almond pastry cakes.
As soon as we would finish one cake, he was sure to visit our neighborhood boulanger and purchase another one.
Despite the frequent rains of January.
Despite the chill of winter.
Despite his fading memory of high school French.
Down the street he would walk until he reached the boulangerie. “Monsieur, je voudrais une galette, s’il vous plait…”
You see, this was not just your ordinary almond cake. The galette des rois is a perfectly round almond paste-filled puff pastry dessert that contains a hidden feve, a little trinket made of china. When the cake is cut into pieces, the person who discovers the feve contained within his or her slice is given the honor of being king or queen for the day. Since the slices must be eaten slowly, so as not to break one’s tooth on the china feve, the suspense of who will discover the trinket builds and builds until the lucky winner spits it right out of his mouth and onto his plate. But of course (said with thick French accent) the galette is sold with the most ridiculous shimmery gold paper crown to adorn the winner’s head, and (but of course) the winner is allowed to pick his or her queen or king for the celebration.
Like little children who thrill with pounding heartbeat at the suspense of a treasure hunt, we would play the Kings’ Cake game with great anticipation, and not a small amount of competition, to see who would discover the hidden feve and be crowned king for the day.
There is a certain joy in revealing what once was hidden.
So too do we delight in the revelation of the hidden Christ.
Revealed to the shepherds on Christmas as Savior, the Lamb of God. Revealed to the Magi on Epiphany as the King of kings.
This Savior King, who was once seated on heaven’s throne beside God the Father, condescended to become man, discarding his splendor and luminescence, to be hidden deep within Mary’s womb.
Like the feve hidden within the galette, it seems being hidden was a frequent experience for the God man. No sooner had the Magi left them than Joseph, prompted by a dream, fled to Egypt with his little family to hide baby Jesus from the blood-thirsty reach of King Herod.
Even during his ministry, Jesus often instructed those he healed to keep hidden the news of what he had done, to protect him from the press of the crowds and from his enemies.
And I ask myself, how have I hidden the living God this past year? By this I don’t mean, in what ways have I been afraid to reveal him? But rather, how have I protected the sacredness of my Lord this past year and treasured him deep within my heart?
King David’s words help us ask the right probing questions…
Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.
How much of God’s word have I hidden deep within me, taking it in as my very sustenance, digesting and absorbing it, so that his words have become the source of energy that fuels my every thought, word, and deed?
Thy word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.
Have I made a practice of taking God with me everywhere I go? Of consciously being aware of his presence with me, allowing him to lead me, guide me, and illumine my every step?
You are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.
Have I cultivated the habit of trusting that it is safe to yield my will to the goodness, the holiness, the gentleness of my righteous king? Or do I reassert my right to the throne every time life gets messy and unpredictable?
The journey of Advent to Christmas to Epiphany reveals to us the mystery that Jesus is our long-awaited king. But he is not just the king for a day, wearing a shimmery gold paper crown. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and his reign and the peace his kingdom brings will know no end.
This is the hidden one revealed.
PS- If reading this post has made you want to make your own galette des rois, I can recommend this recipe. I made it for the first time this year, and it is by far prettier and easier than my usual recipe. And the added bonus: it doesn’t have to be translated from metric to our American imperial measurements! Bon appetit!