The official start of Mardi Gras or carnival season in New Orleans starts on Wednesday, January 6, 2010, which marks the Feast of Epiphany, also known as the Twelfth Night of Christmas. It marks the day the wise men brought gifts to the Christ Child. By doing so they ‘revealed’ or ‘made known’ Jesus to the world as Lord and King. As the Mardi Gras season starts this year Fat Tuesday falls on February 16, 2010, always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent for fasting and abstinence in the Catholic Church.
“If you go to New Orleans You ought to go see the Mardi Gras.” That famous lyric in the song “Go to the Mardi Gras” as sung by Professor Longhair can be heard every year on most Crescent City radio stations during Mardi Gras season. This YouTube video includes the song made famous and still heard today, along with some images from some of the carnival seasons of past.
Mardi Gras Series Blog Team
Drick Perry who has Drick’s Rambling Café blog and I have teamed up as we both start promoting Mardi Gras on our respective blog’s, specifically Drick concentrates on the Mobile, Alabama Mardi Gras influence, and I will focus on the New Orleans Mardi Gras traditions. Please join me with Drick and his first post in the series entitled Mardi Gras – Cajun Pick-Me-Ups.
The King Cake
One of the great treats for Mardi Gras season is the magnificent King Cake parties that start up, and becomes a boon for local bakeries and markets. Estimates show that New Orleans area bakeries and markets sell around 4,000 to 5,000 King Cakes a day during carnival.
While the days that King Cakes are available at local bakeries and groceries in and around southeast Louisiana, in particular New Orleans seem to get extended a few days every year, traditionally King Cakes are only available during the Mardi Gras season. The typical King Cake is an oval or round shaped dough which is formed from a yeast risen sweet dough similar to cinnamon roll or Danish dough. Recipes vary from bakery to restaurant to grocery, but the basic King Cake dough is laced with lots of cinnamon and sugar and topped with icing and then sprinkled with tinted sugars of purple, green and gold. Many variations of fillings are available also depending on the shop, but some of my favorite fillings are cream cheese, raspberry, lemon, cherry, blueberry and my all time favorite is my chocolate filled King Cake. Inside each king cake is a small plastic baby, which the baker gently hides after it is baked and cooled. At Mardi Gras gatherings whoever finds the piece of cake with the baby is crowned king or queen for the day and must bring a king cake to the next party. From junior through high school every Mardi Gras season some of our classes would celebrate a weekly party to honor the long tradition.
A select few bakeries’ offer to ship king cakes including Haydel’s, Randazzo’s and others, usually overnight or 2 day shipping is preferred. When I operated Boudreaux’s Restaurant I sold about 2 to 3 dozen king cakes a week during the Mardi Gras season, I wished they were as popular the rest of the year too!
The History of King Cake
The New Orleans custom began in the late 1800’s and celebrates Epiphany with cakes that are baked to honor the three kings. The oval or round shape signifies their circular journey to confuse King Herod. The plastic baby represents Jesus. In addition, the search for the baby is represented by the mystery of who will get the slice with the plastic baby in it. However, with legalities the way they are many do not place the baby in the cake, but will leave it out for the customer to place it, removing any liability from the shop for supposed folks who may swallow the plastic baby. For more history about Mardi Gras and King Cakes, check out the links at the end of this post.
Ever wonder why Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold? The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple (symbolic of justice), green (symbolic of faith) and gold (symbolic of power). The accepted story behind the original selection of these colors originates from 1872 when the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia visited New Orleans. It is said that the Grand Duke came to the city in pursuit of an actress named Lydia Thompson. During his stay, he was given the honor of selecting the official Mardi Gras colors by the Krewe of Rex…thus, did these colors also become the colors of the House of Romanoff. The 1892 Rex Parade theme (“Symbolism of Colors”) first gave meaning to the representation of the official Mardi Gras colors. Interestingly, the colors of Mardi Gras influenced the choice of school colors for the Louisiana arch-rival colleges, Louisiana State University and Tulane University. When LSU was deciding on its colors, the stores in New Orleans had stocked-up on fabrics of purple, green and gold for the upcoming Mardi Gras Season. LSU, opting for purple and gold, bought a large quantity of the available cloth. Tulane purchased much of the only remaining color …green (Tulane’s colors are green and white).
If you have never been to Mardi Gras or seen or eaten a King Cake, now is the time to share in the enduring New Orleans tradition! Tomorrow I will post my favorite King Cake recipe so you too can make your own. On the other hand, you can have one shipped and you too can celebrate one of the biggest Aha! moments in recorded history.
- A Taste of Mardi Gras – NPR
- Mardi Gras in New Orleans
- New Orleans Mardi Gras – Wiki
- The Traditions of Mardi Gras