Friday, March 4, 2011

Mardi Gras and the King Cake~a French Tradition

I spent five glorious days in my home town of New Orleans enjoying  Mardi Gras season, a tradition of my city's French heritage. Best of all was traveling with a friend new to the celebration that most citizens in the city have grown up with from Day 1. Part of that tradition is The King Cake. Oval in shape, the original King Cake consisted of dough much like a brioche and was heavily sprinkled with sugar in the three colors of Mardi Gras- purple, green and gold. The custom has its roots in the European Christian feast called Twelfth Night or Epiphany and commemorates the visit of the Wise men to the Christ child. On this feast, gifts were exchanged, and a cake was baked with a tiny toy baby inside. Whoever discovered the baby in his serving was the King. Guests celebrated the good fortune of the King. This custom came to New Orleans with the French and Spanish settlers and is still a vibrant and well loved practice today. Starting on the twelfth night after Christmas, King Cake parties are celebrated. The person finding the baby in his or her slice of cake is the king or queen, must wear the crown and give the next party. The parties continue until the first day of Lent known as Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras Day or Fat Tuesday precedes Ash Wednesday, and it is the last day of festivities of the Mardi Gras season. Every year thousands of King Cakes are shipped all over the country and even to other parts of the world.  True to my heritage, I brought four cakes home to Austin for family and friends to enjoy. In France during this time my friends are enjoying the same tradition and festive parties that bind us by shared culture and tradition.