Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Little About Mardi Gras

I've been asked so I will do my best to reply - what is a King Cake?

The season of Mardi Gras begins on the Twelfth Night of Christmas. January 6. The Day of Epiphany. As a part of the Feast of Epiphany, the roots of the King Cake are born. Mardi Gras is a celebration involving royality and ceremony. The celebrations of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are best known to Americans. It originated in Europe, of course, and the King Cake represents a gift from the Wise Men, later known as Kings. Today's King Cakes are made of a brioche type of dough and iced or glazed with white icing, then sprinkled with three colors of sugar. The sugar colors are green, gold and purple. The colors of royality and good fortune.

The New Orleans version of Mardi Gras is different than the Cajun Mardi Gras in the central/southwestern area of Louisiana. The Cajun Mardi Gras is rural in origin and involves men on horseback going on a kind of a scavenger hunt for the ingredients of gumbo. It is raucaus and very male. The small communities still carry on the tradition.

In New Orleans, the parades roll in the streets of the French Quarter and along the Garden District and the uptown areas. A krewe is a private organization of people who enjoy participating in a parade, costumes, and a traditional masked ball. Different members of the krewe make up the royal hierarchy, with a king and queen at the helm. Membership in a krewe is by invitation only and although today the rules are a bit more relaxed, many krewes still keep the tradition of secrecy. Different parades are sponsored by different krewes. The oldest Krewe in New Orleans is the Krewe of Zulu. It is a krewe comprised of black New Orleanians from the business community and the favored throw from the parade is a coconut. I'm not kidding. Heads up.

The cry of "Throw me something, Mister" is heard as the parades roll. All sorts of trinkets and goodies are thrown to onlookers. Beads, originally glass and now plastic, are the most popular. Other throws can be candy, doubloons, plastic cups, mini frisbees, whistles, etc. All of the stuff bears the name of the krewe throwing it.

The season is fun. It is rowdy and it is celebrated all along the coast of Louisiana, in Mobile, in Gulfport and Biloxi, in Galveston and points in between. Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, is the day before the Wednesday beginning Lent. Party, then atone.

Laissez le bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll.

Anyway, a King Cake is served at parties during Mardi Gras season. Today the hidden surprise is a plastic baby. Whoever gets the slice of cake with the baby is tasked with providing the next cake at the next get-together. It is a symbol of good luck.


srp said...

I can honestly say that Mardi Gras is one day I have never felt inclined to celebrate. It is the one holiday that operates on the assumption that "it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission."

seawitch said...

The most embrassing thing that happened to me at the Biloxi Mardi Gras parade was when someone aimed right at me and threw me a pair of underwear. It was embaressing because my four old son was standing along side me.

I hadn't been to any parades in years but went last year just for the fact that with everything we've faced in Mississippi: it was a promise that all was not lost and we needed the break.

I haven't decided yet, but I may ride on our companies float in the D'Iberville parade.

Paul is a Hermit said...

I like the sound of the King Cake. Of course that was after I looked up what Brioche bread was. Here, in little York, we have Fat Tuesday but all we eat are Fastnachts, potato doughnuts, every church and firehall make them. No parades, no Mardi Gras, nothing, just get fat.
I can picture someone yelling, "Throw Me Something, Mister" at the Krewe of Zulu and getting killed with a coconut.
Thanks for the History, I enjoy learning such things.
It's the remembering that's hard.

Jennifer said...

I saw a documentary on the King Cakes tradition last year. The Food Network, I think? It was very interesting, as was your lesson for today! I had no idea about the Cajun Mardi Gras.

AC said...

I've seen pictures of King Cakes, so pretty with all the colors. I'm glad the baby doesn't mean...a baby! i would not eat a piece, ever, if that were so. I am only selectively superstitious.

I've never been to Mardi Gras but did go to the jazz festival in NO one year. It rained so we spent all out time eating po'boys and oysters. The crowds were still too much for me though I'm thinking the jazz festival was way calmer than MG.