On January 6, I worked with my four year old son to make a king cake. We have spent hours in past months in Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona’s anthology, including “Strega Nona’s Gift,” a celebration of Italian holiday feasts at Christmas and Epiphany. The story inspired us to bake. We mixed ingredients, kneaded dough, and, lacking a favo bean to hide inside, found a mini-motorcycle eraser boy to stand in for a hidden Jesus. The King or Queen of our family feast would be declared at the end of dinner.
In dePaola’s story, Big Anthony steals a special meal from Strega Nona’s goat. The goat in turn nibbles up Big Anthony’s blanket and he is cold all night. When Big Anthony finds the bean in his cake, he is named the King of the Feast. As his prize, he requests the special meal that he had stolen from the goat and a new blanket. Strega Nona provides both. King Anthony feeds the goat in the manger. All go to bed well-fed and warm.
And in the course of the day while the yeast bread rose, I began to catch pieces of the news. Lest we think the spirit of Herod no longer lives, I listened to reports that a ruler had directed crowds to enact violence. And my children watched in glimpses as I tried to explain what I was seeing. People from afar coming to bring bitter tidings of force. “Why?” my children wondered before I had words.
And the cake was sliced at supper. A newly decorated shiny crown ready that my son had designed. And in my son’s selected slice, the little man represented, the bean. And we rejoiced with our boy, finding a knitted robe for him to don with his headwear.
And after the kids were tucked in tight, my partner and I sat before the glowing television as the day sunk in. How can truth make its way home, like the wise men of old, by another road? We strive to believe that the voice of each matters. This is what we teach and tell our children daily, even as we watch this mayhem unfold wildly– cries of fraud incited by the seat of Empire.
An Epiphany not soon forgotten. Striving for rest as it would come, bleary. The brightness of the evening fit for Kings. Overrun by the power that comes with office. And punctuated with hope by a little boy savoring the sweetness of sprinkles and icing. And the reality that there are so many who are not well-fed and warm. So many of this nation and this world that have always known the bitter tears of false promises. How we all of us here, in some way, have a false footing of what is yours, mine, and ours given the bigotry baked into our nation.
God, forgive us. In our blindness, in our ignorance, in our racism, commit us– that no one ruler would hijack the hearts of masses seeking to heap hurt and instill fear. For vitriol so quickly migrates from adults to our children. And it was as a child, Christians celebrate, that God was made known alongside the sheep and the goats. And while we don our regality, it is in our humbling that we see most clearly the pathway from hate—another road.