I’ve been thinking about traditions. It began on Instagram a few of weeks ago, when French bakery Agathé Pâtisserie announced that they’d be making galette des rois, or King Cake, to order over the weekend following Epiphany (January 6th). Every single piece of this information would have been disastrously meaningless to me if I hadn’t, one year before, read David Lebovitz’s blog post on the very topic – alas, I was enlightened to the French tradition, and so found myself throwing my very first King Cake party this year.
It was marvellous.
From the moment I read Lebovitz’s blog post I was enamoured by the idea of the galette des rois tradition: it involved a group of friends, the most heavenly looking, pastry-laden cake, and the competitive thrill of finding the year’s lucky porcelain trinket baked into one’s given piece. I’m not quite sure there could be an existing tradition that is more up my alley.
The galette des rois – layer upon layer of golden pastry filled with frangipane – procured from Agathé was beyond sensational and that alone is really enough to cement its position as an institution worth repeating. What I also love about the King Cake, though, is that it demands tradition in itself: whoever happens upon the little porcelain trinket (in our case this year, a tiny character with an ice-cream cone for a head that was equal parts cute and creepy) is not only crowned ‘king’, but takes on the responsibility of providing the cake for next year’s party. Luckily, our ‘king’ was more than happy with this arrangement, to the point whereby he scheduled a calendar reminder for 2017 right then and there.
It’s a comforting feeling to know that, despite the general uncertainty of the year laid out before us, we can be certain that next January 6th or thereabouts we’ll be sitting down to another night of fabulous company, French rosé and galette des rois. And I think that is why I’ve been preoccupied by the concept of tradition since our King Cake party: as the architect of a new tradition, I’m starting to understand that these rituals have the power to provoke a special kind of magic. They spark certainty – that ever-coveted human desire – that this sense of belonging and connectedness and joy will happen again.
For a long time we simply take part in the traditions that have been laid out long before us, or at least long before we are old enough to truly realise why they hold such power. It’s only at this point in my adult life – somewhere after the lapse or natural end of many childhood traditions, and the eventual emergence of new ones that seem to have organically sprouted up in their place – that I feel the the significance of curating those experiences, of caring for them in their infancy so that they grow up to stand the test of time. I feel it keenly right now – that all it would take is perhaps one missed year and that fragile little thing might crumble away and die. But then on the contrary, that if I force it too much such things are wont to crack under pressure and meet the same sad end. A tradition is a beautiful, delicate survivor of those harsh elements.
And so here, in the deliciously warm afterglow of a flaky, buttery cake that calls to be re-conjured in so many ways, I suppose I simply find myself feeling a little sentimental. I’m thankful and inspired. I feel sentimental for beloved traditions past – my Nana’s huge, ginger fluff sponge cakes every birthday, or the mad scramble of the biggest Kris Kringle you’ve ever seen at Grandma and Grandpa’s at Christmastime – and simultaneously for those just beginning, or have yet to even be imagined.