USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Mardi Gras’
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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.

Foodways
Holidays

King Cake

One of my co-workers lived near New Orleans, so she told me about a food tradition in New Orleans during Mardi Gras known as a King Cake.

“It’s called a King Cake and it’s Mardi Gras and they bake it and you can get them everywhere. It’s like a pastry that has cinnamon in it, it’s like a big cinnamon roll, it’s in the shape of an oval, like a ring, and there’s icing on it and all these sprinkles, like green, yellow, and purple sprinkles for Mardi Gras. You bake the cake and once you get it there’s a little figurine, like a baby, about the size of your thumb and you stick it somewhere in the cake and then you cover it up and as you eat it, whoever gets the baby in their piece of bread has good luck for a year.

Q: Can you buy a cake that has a baby in it or do you have to make it?

“That’s the thing, it’s actually kind of a problem, because some people swallow the baby if you eat it too fast. So, when you buy the cake you can get them in there already, but most of the time if you get them at a Rouses, it’s like a chain grocery store, they’ll have them taped on the top of the box and they’ll give you the figurine and the person who buys it sticks it in there, so they know not to give that piece to a little kid…You frost it so you can’t see the hole, so I would stick it in and then mess the frosting around so you couldn’t tell where it was. And then you get good luck for a year.”

According to my informant, because the cakes are meant for Mardi Gras, you probably wouldn’t see those types of cakes during the rest of the year unless they were specially ordered. Also, it would be considered strange to eat a King Cake that didn’t have a baby inside, since the type of cake and the folklore surrounding the baby figuring go hand in hand.

For more information on this topic see:  Barclay, Eliza. “Is That A Plastic Baby Jesus In My Cake?” The Salt: What’s On Your Plate. NPR, 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 01 May 2014.

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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Festival de Amancaes

Informant is a Peruvian friend who was visiting me this week. She first heard of the Amancaes festival from her grandmother. The Fiesta de San Juan was a festival that took place in the hills of the Amancaes located in the seaside Rimac district of Lima. The Amancaes are bright yellow flowers that grew on these hills during the months of June and July.
The Festival of Amancaes evolved from the pilgrimage site because of the beautiful Amancay flowers that blossomed during the months of June and July and covered the hills in their entirety. In these celebrations, limeñans of all classes and races came down to the hills for unlimited food, music and dance. This celebration went on until 1952 when it was discontinued because the hills of Amancaes were invaded by squatters coming from the outskirts in search of better opportunities in the capital.
This festival was meaningful because Limeñan society has always been very stratified and segregated by class and race. Limeñans of European descent always looked down upon the indigenous and African populations, but on this one day (like Mardi Gras and the Ancient Roman’s Saturnalia) all of these social mores are forgotten and people of all races and classes would party together and share food and drink. Now, there is a festival that was started two years ago called Mistura, this is a gastronomic festival organized every year in Lima and it has become so popular that tickets are sold out almost immediately after they go on sale. This festival is doing the same purpose that the Festival de Amancaes used to do which was to bring society together by providing them with something that people of all ages, races and social classes enjoy: good food.

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King Cake

My informant moved around quite a bit when he was younger; he spent a couple years in Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi. In his adolescence, his family moved to Louisiana. Because that is where he went to high school and is therefore the last place he lived before coming to college, it is the place he considers his home. He is proud of being “from” the area near New Orleans. Here is his description of a traditional cake he ate around Mardi Gras:

“A King Cake is a circular cinnamon-roll like cake with green, purple, and yellow icing, the traditional colors of Mardi Gras. It’s named after the three kings from the Bible. Growing up, I consumed King Cake at school with my classmates as well as at home with my family. The cake is consumed during the season of Lent and contains a small plastic baby, which represents baby Jesus. The person who gets the baby in their slice of cake is obligated to bring the King Cake for the following week. So we had King Cake every Friday at school during Lent, since on Fridays you’re allowed some reprieves from the strict Lent rules. The King Cake is very symbolic of one of the most festive times for Louisianans, and it brings all of the community together in celebration of the season. However, while delicious, the cake also serves as a reminder of the obligations one has during the season of Lent.”

This cake became such a significant tradition for my informant that when he went away to college, his grandma mailed him one. Mardi Gras is not nearly as big of a deal in Los Angeles—where my informant attends university—as it is in New Orleans, so he greatly appreciated the gesture. It reminded him of his home and the traditions he spent years celebrating, so it does make sense for him to be sentimental about a cake. What may seem like a simple dessert to an outsider actually has quite a bit of symbolism. As my informant said, even the colors of the frosting have meaning: they are the festive Mardi Gras colors. Food is often intrinsic to special celebrations, and Mardi Gras is the biggest celebration of the region my informant lives in. It is comparable to a birthday cake in that it is a cake eaten at a special time with family and friends, but the King Cake has an added community-building element. The fact the person who eats the piece with the little plastic baby in it has to bring the next cake means that the King Cake itself perpetuates the gatherings of those people. It provides a kind of assurance that they will all come together again in a short time to share the same food and celebrate the season. Therefore, one of the functions of this folklore is the guarantee that those people will meet again.

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