Food Nation

Lamb Cakes and Leprechauns: Holiday Cake Heebie-Jeebies

Many holiday traditions are built around food. One of my family's traditions is lamb cake.

As far back as I can remember, lamb cake has been a part of our Easter festivities. It is always plain white cake, with cream-cheese frosting and green-dyed coconut grass. Even after my brothers and I had all grown up, the cake appeared. For a few years, with no children young enough to appreciate it and with no grandchildren yet in the picture, the cake took on a slightly less cartoonish bent. The pink frosted nose and ears disappeared, and the grass was no longer elaborately decorated with marzipan carrots and flowers. It was simple, with no adornment but white frosting gently brushed with a fork so as to resemble a woolen coat, but unmistakably a lamb.

It has always creeped me out. It wasn't so bad for those few faceless years, but when that little thing is cuted up as much as my mom can manage, its blue doe eyes peering up at me as I descend, knife in hand, to portion it out to a couple of excited children who were, only moments before, attempting to stroke the cake while cooing softly at its adorableness, it always gives me a little shiver. Perversely, I still look forward to that cake every year.

That got me thinking about other holidays, and their creepy cakes. Some are obvious. Take, for example, the obnoxious trend of Halloween cakes baked to resemble severed heads and oozing organs. To me, those are too played up, too campy and intentionally gross to be anything other than novelty. What gets me are the cakes nobody thinks about -the cakes that seem perfectly innocuous, until you really take a moment to think about them.

Leprechaun cakes are pretty popular come St. Patrick's Day. Often, they feature a little green man, miserly hoarding his pot of gold while drunken Irishmen try to capture him and his vast fortune. Some might get offended at the blatant stereotyping surrounding pretty much every aspect of St. Patrick's Day celebrations stateside. Me, I'm just disturbed by the notion of eating a small mischievous man just to get at his money.

Christmas is one of the most tradition-heavy holidays on the calendar, drawing its elements from Christian, pagan, and commercial sources alike, and it, too, has its creepy cake. You probably think I'm going to talk about fruitcake, whose supposed indestructibility is a source of fear to anyone with distant relatives of the itchy-sweater-gift variety. Nope. I'm looking at you, Bûche de Noël. Another name for this cake is the unfortunate "Yule Log." Perhaps I'm just being childish, but I find something deeply unsettling about eating a cake referred to by a euphemism for "Giant Christmas Crap," and which frequently looks the part.

Baby showers kind of bother me in general; I've never really understood why a party is necessary to celebrate the successful breeding of two mammals. It's not exactly an achievement. All the cutesy decorations and inevitable embarrassment of having to play games where you have to spoon-feed and simulate diaper changes just make things worse. The icing on the cake, though, is the relatively new phenomenon of the "Diaper Cake." I'm sure cakes shaped like diapers have been common for a long time. Then, someone decided that wasn't enough, and created a cake made out of diapers. That's just wrong. At least they're not edible. Yet.

Last but not least is Valentine's Day. Surely this most romantic of holidays is free from creepy cake syndrome! Nope. At first glance, a cute little heart cake might seem like the most innocuous symbol of affection, but it's actually far more disturbing. Think about it. You're showing your undying love for someone by presenting them with a representation of one of your organs, frequently emblazoned with overbearing sentiments that verge on a scary kind of possessive objectification. Then you expect them to eat it. Sounds like some sort of creepy, pseudo-sexual cannibalism, to me. Black Widow, indeed.

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