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.