Tag Archives: Baby Jesus

French New Year Traditions

The following is a piece from a friend whose parents are French immigrants.  I am represented by K and the informant is represented by I.


K: Go ahead and tell me about your tradition.

I: So, in January, the start of the new year, there’s a tradition called Gallete du Roi, which translates to… uh, King’s Cake… and… one person will start by hosting a party in which… uhm, we make dinner, and you invite your group of friends over, and then you make the King’s Cake, which is usually almond paste and phyllo dough on top, with a little ceramic baby Jesus or baby Mary or baby lamb or something inside, and then… uhm… you cut the- you cut the pie, and the youngest person at the party like goes under the table or hides or something, and they dictate who each piece goes to.  So it’s … non…biased.  And then… uhm.. and then you eat the cake and whoever gets the baby is the King or the Queen and they choose their King or their Queen to host the next party with them and the guy brings the wine, the woman makes the food- bakes the cake- which is just really.. not… gender… equality… if you ask me, but uhm, and then the party keeps going all throughout January, and there’s another tradition we do!- Well, it’s not really a tradition, it’s like uhm, on the first day of January, so it’s like the first day of the new year, uhm, you hold a piece of like- like a gold coin in your hand. Uhm, or anything that has gold in it, like real gold… uhm, and you make crepes and you flip the crepe with the gold in your hand, and if it lands well and doesn’t break, you’ll have prosperity in the new year, and if it breaks or it doesn’t happen… you’re… gonna be poor.

K: And where’d you learn this from?

I: My momma.


We were sitting outdoors in a shaded area by a couch, working on a group project, but only the informant, one other member of our project, and I were there.  I asked the informant if she had any traditions or interesting pieces of folklore she would want to share and she readily agreed.  It was a really nice day out and the conversation felt very natural.

My Thoughts:


Her family is from France and she very strongly identifies with her French roots.  I thought this tradition was pretty interesting because it’s very religious, and my friend isn’t that religious, really, but she considers it more of a cultural tradition.  I know that this tradition is also very cultural, as well.  My family calls it Three Kings Day, but we don’t really celebrate it.  I went to Catholic school growing up, though, and I know we always had the cake in our of our classes, but the cake we ate was different than the one the informant described.  In Latin culture, this holiday also involved leaving shoes out, which my dad has told me about.  I think it’s cool to see the evolution of this holiday based on ethnicity.  It’s interesting to watch how it changes from place to place and how there are little cultural differences.

Mexican Christmas Tradition “Baby Jesus”

Main Piece: “It is important to note that before I talk about our traditions, Mexico is super Catholic… Way more catholic than United States. One of the most popular traditions that we do on Christmas is everyone has a life size baby Jesus, and every Christmas you are supposed to ‘wake him up’ at midnight… And at midnight, you pick up Baby Jesus, and you rock him and sing songs and everybody kisses him and they sing traditional catholic songs. Then you buy him clothes and have clothes specially made for him, and shoes, and it is expected that you prepare all these things before midnight. There are roles that every person in the family has, and the role of the Godfather is very important. The Godfather has to buy clothes, and make sure that those things are prepared for baby Jesus . The roles can change every three years. Additionally, people would make food for everyone and doors are open to anyone. If they sit down at the table, they can eat. We would make a ton of food, and have candy too so that kids who come to the doors could receive candy. Then on Feb 6. You put baby Jesus back to sleep, with a similar ritual that is big of a deal as Christmas Day.”


Background: UV grew up in Mexico, so this was a very important part of his life growing up. As UV mentions in the telling of the traditions they practiced, Mexico is incredibly Catholic and so those aspects of the religion, especially as related to big Catholic holidays, were very important to him and his family. He said that in addition to Mexico being far more Catholic, Mexico is far more community based. The practices they had for their holidays were all about gathering with family, and even bringing anybody in from the community that needed a place to be for the holidays. UV said that these traditions meant a lot to him because they emphasized the cultural importance of family and community, and it was nice for him to be able to create those bonds with everyone.


Context of the Performance: UV told me this story while we were hanging out at my apartment and talking about the different traditions and things we would do for our holidays. Because Christmas is his favorite holiday, he was more than happy to tell me about these traditions, and he was equally as happy to hear the differences that occur between Christmas in Mexico, and the Christmas that I celebrate in America.


Analysis: I found this Christmas tradition to be very indicative of the the cultural emphasis that Mexico places on both religion and community. This tradition of the baby Jesus perfectly encapsulates both of these in a nice neat bow. The idea that it is the family’s responsibility to ensure that baby Jesus has everything he needs for when he comes into the world is a very familial way to show the importance of religion in Mexico. Additionally, I find this tradition to further emphasize the importance of community and kindness. UV mentions that if anyone came to a house, it was custom to make sure that the guest was fed. They would even leave doors unlocked and in some cases wide open, further encouraging people to join in on the festivities. This is very different from American Christmas, in the sense that America is a bit more tight knit and really only spends the time with close relatives. It is very uncommon for Americans to leave their doors open and just accept anyone and everyone from the community to come in and join them for the festivities. At least from my experience, I have never talked to anyone who does this in their house for Christmas in America, and I certainly have never done it in my household. This difference further accentuates the difference in cultural emphasis on community building, and furthers the divide between community and individualism which is far more apparent in America than Mexico.

King Cake

King Cake

            “We in Louisiana have a big celebration right before lent which we call Mardi Gras. A big part of the celebration is to eat king cake. The king cake is in the shape of a crown and it has a little plastic baby which essentially represents baby Jesus. The cool thing about it is that back in school, if you got the baby Jesus, you were celebrity for the day. In lunch everyone would hover around you. Back at home though, who ever got the baby Jesus, was in charge of bringing the next king cake, but it also mean that they would gain good luck… I don’t really know how this originated I just remember that we celebrated this all the time back at home. Everyone in the city celebrated this, in schools, at home, and even on the streets. I just know that I grew up with this tradition and that’s why I had king cake when Mardi Gras was happening back at home. I guess I’ve just grown accustomed to it.”

My informant was born and raised in Louisiana, New Orleans. She recently moved to Los Angeles, California to attend USC. Therefore, since tis move was fairly recent, she still shows signs of high attachment to her former place of birth. Most of the traditions she is accustomed to have not necessarily been directly taught, but more so been a part of her daily life that she considers them as something normal in an everyday situation. Furthermore, she does not really know about the exact root of the traditions she’s been brought up onto, all she knows is that they are there, they have been there for quite some time now and they will continue to be practiced.

I found this tradition quite interesting especially when analyzing it with my own recollections. This is because my culture also practices this tradition but during different times. In other words, the same king cake used in Louisiana, is also used in Mexico, except it’s called a rosca; in Louisiana, this is celebrated right before lent and in Mexico, this is celebrated in the first week of January. The concept is all the same; there are a couple of plastic babies put into the bread which represent baby Jesus, and in both traditions, whoever gets the piece of bread with the baby Jesus is in charge of bringing then next bread to the gathering. Also, in both traditions, the person who gets the baby Jesus is then said to gain good luck. This similarity is interesting because it serves to explain how there is multiplicity for certain traditions who one may think are very original to one specific location when in actuality, many cultures practice the same thing but perhaps at different times as was in this case. Overall, knowing this can bring people of different backgrounds together. Personally speaking I now feel like I have more in common with my informant than I did before.

Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve

Informant: “On Christmas eve children are not allowed to enter the room where the Christmas tree is going to be in, until given permission by their parents. Children are told that Baby Jesus brought the tree and the gifts for them. Though, sometimes it is just the gifts that Baby Jesus is responsible for”


The informant is a first generation American who was born in Danbury, Connecticut. She is a middle aged woman with two older children. Her father was born in Oriente, Cuba and her mother was born in Mór, Hungary. The informant did not believe in this baby Jesus lore herself, but heard about this belief from her mother. Her mother told the informant and her sisters of this lore when they were young children approximately six or seven years of age.

Although the Baby Jesus tradition was not actively practiced in the informant’s family, it was actively practiced and believed in her mother’s family when her mother was a child. The informant said that her mother and her family “would go to church and when they got back Baby Jesus would have magically decorated the room and brought gifts.”

The informant and her sisters found the lore to be amusing, and they would sometimes say to things to each other such as “Baby Jesus wouldn’t like that” to jest about the idea of Baby Jesus. She also liked the idea of Baby Jesus because it was different from her cultural experience and “sparked the imagination.” Furthermore, the informant felt that the idea of Baby Jesus really cemented the concept of Christianity during Christmas because belief in Baby Jesus took the focus away from figures like Santa Claus and reemphasized the “real point of the holiday of Jesus’s birth.”

I agree with the informant that this lore effectively brings Christ back into the focus of Christmas because now Baby Jesus is responsible for the Christmas tree and the gifts rather than a character like Santa Claus. As an Episcopalian, I am not a very devoutly religious Christian, but my family and I do go to church on Christmas Eve. Oftentimes, the pastor will spend some time to discuss how people (in reference to other Christians) can forget the reason behind the celebration of Christmas, that it is ultimately the day of Jesus’s birth, rather than just a day of gift-giving and festivities. It seems some Christians consider overlooking the importance of Jesus on Christmas a very serious problem, and methods like this can help alleviate this perceived problem.