Tag Archives: Mardi Gras

King Cake

Text (traditional foods/folk belief)

“I bought King Cake one year. I thought it was just going to be a slice, but it was big enough for multiple people.”


My informant has attended the Mardi Gras parade twice and tried King cake once when she went with friends.

Q: “What is King Cake?”

A: “King Cake is a large type of cake in a circular shape but hollow in the middle almost like a rope that is decorated in icing and sugar of the Mardi Gras colors: green, gold, and purple. It typically has a tiny toy baby in the center of it that represents baby Jesus and is a symbol of a year of good luck and prosperity to whoever finds it in their slice”


King cake during the celebration of Mardi Gras is a collective ritual most people participate in to celebrate and participate in the cultural experience as well as hoping to find the plastic baby looking forward to prosperity in the coming year. Stemming from Frazer’s ideas of belief and sympathetic magic, this shows how non-scientific belief has an influence on the natural world implying good luck and warding off bad energy. It’s a form of homeopathic magic as “like produces like” or finding the baby Jesus produces good luck and prosperity. This custom is rooted in European traditions dating back to the Epiphany, a Christian holiday representative of the Magi visiting baby Jesus. Originally, a baby Jesus figure was hidden in bread and whoever found it would be king or queen for the day. After the spread of this tradition in New Orleans, bakers would add their own spin on the ritual varying decorations and selling the cakes during Mardi Gras season. The cake is very large and meant to be shared and eaten with others as a community bonding ritual that brings people together in celebration and festivities reinforcing communal cultural identity. This is an example of the ways folklore changes through time based on the cultural context of a community. Steering away from medieval societal structures, the context in which the toy baby Jesus was used changed from an aristocratic nature to an uplifting optimistic symbol of luck and prosperity brought by the baby Jesus. Also exemplary of religious folklore, this practice is a for Catholic belief to be communally shared, and enjoyed by festival participants bringing people together to cherish and understand more about the religious custom and how it has evolved through time.

Throwing beads

Text (ritual/folk belief)

“Throwing and collecting beads is a traditional practice and brings good luck.”


My informant has lived in Louisiana for 4 years and participated in the Mardi Gras festival twice where this practice occurs collecting many beads to wear around her neck in participation of the celebration.

Q: “What is the significance of beads at Mardi Gras parades?”

A: “The practice of throwing beads on Mardi Gras stems from 19th-century French customs where the king would throw jewels and gold to the ‘common people’”.

Q: “How do you get beads?”

A: “The people on floats are above you at the parade and you can reach your hands out or jump and wave to insinuate for them to throw beads down, or people also commonly will flash their boobs to get beads. I didn’t do that though haha. There used to be a legend that University of Lafayette students wore beads to stand out during Mardi Gras and the custom spread to now where beads are commonly worn and exchanged at the festival”


Originating in the 19th century, bead throwing is a traditional ritual/practice taking place where those of higher status or class would assert their position originally throwing any small trinkets to spectators of the parade. The evolution to throwing beads began in the 20th century as people of higher status would begin to dress up themselves and their floats in beads colored in line with the Mardi Gras theme as a symbol of creativity and expression. Today these beads are representative of the Mardi Gras season expressing appreciation for and participation in New Orleans cultural practices asserting a shared cultural identity. The traditional custom of wearing brightly colored beads and the ritual of exchanging or throwing said beads act as a way to show participation and involvement in the festivities as well as a symbol of good luck. Frazer explores the concept of homeopathic magic and the idea that like produces like. Many people partake in bead-throwing rituals in hopes of receiving good luck for the coming year partaking in this homeopathic ritual. His work provides a framework for analyzing the role and significance of rituals, symbols, and practices in various cultures. Recently, however, there has been some controversy regarding the environmental friendliness of throwing around thousands of plastic beads. Many people have called for more sustainable alternatives to this practice which is an integral part of Mardi Gras culture. This conversation touches on the adaptation and transformation of folklore over time to be more accommodating to 21st-century ideals and the evolution of folklore practices to fit the modern standards of societal and cultural norms in the United States.

Mardi Gras

Text (festival)

“A week-long festival celebrating New Orlean’s culture and heritage.”


My informant has lived in Louisiana for 4 years and attended the Mardi Gras festival two times.

Q: “What exactly is Mardi Gras?”

A: “The celebration originated in New Orleans and people travel from all across the country to celebrate Mardi Gras here in New Orleans. Basically, it’s a week-long festival/series of parades that happens at the beginning of January lasting until Fat Tuesday right before Ash Wednesday.”

Q: “What is the significance of the celebration?”

A: “It’s essentially a ‘last hoorah’ before lent so it’s the last time you indulge, drinking, eating sweets, especially king’s cake, before you give it up for lent.”


Mardi Gras is a French phrase meaning “Fat Tuesday” translated into English. This comes from the custom of using up all of the fats in the home before lent in preparation for fasting and abstinence. Important families will create floats and dress up in extravagant glittery costumes driving the float around the city throwing out beads, coconuts, candy, etc. There is jazz music, performers, and people in costumes. New Orleans has a lot of French culture stemming from the Louisiana Purchase which gave the United States new land, including New Orleans. People typically dress up in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green. People not coming from “important” New Orleans families will typically just wear comfortable clothes aligning with the Mardi Gras colors and walking shoes as they’ll be outside walking a lot. Different parades are happening throughout the week at different times and the streets are filled with people in celebration. The celebration marks the beginning of Lent, a yearly 40-day fasting period leading up to easter. This is exemplary of the connection between festivals and yearly cycles/the calendar as well as religious folklore. Festivals are often symbolic of cyclical time and the calendar year as Lent is a practice occurring yearly in Christian communities and the festival serves as an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate Christian practices and beliefs. Larry Danielson, a religious folklorist explores these themes of religious rituals and practices including communal groups participating in religious originating festivals representative of shared belief. Mardi Gras specifically has Catholic roots and people use festivals as a way to come together and provide a more deep appreciation and nuanced understanding of religious tradition.

Mardi Gras Cake


E is a junior at Bates University where she skies for their cross country team. She grew up with me in Sun Valley, Idaho.


Me: “How does your family celebrate Mardi Gras?”

E: “Well there is this figurine, a little, small plastic, baby. 

They bake it into a cake

And when the figurine—or—when you’re cutting the cake, 

whoever gets the baby is supposed to pay for the cake next year.”

Me: “Did you ever get the baby and pay for the cake?” 

E: “No. They would just always tell me that I had to buy the cake next year—I was about 10 years old when I got the baby, 

but it was a very exciting moment to get the baby and I would keep it forever and ever.”

Me: “What does the tradition mean?”

E: “It’s from a biblical story. 

The three kings who brings gifts to Baby Jesus 

The baby represents Jesus

the cake was always the colors of Mardi Gras—

Purple, Yellow and green.”


Receiving the baby (who represents Jesus) in your slice of cake, symbolizes luck and prosperity. In E’s family, the person who gets the baby has to pay for next year’s cake, however, traditionally receiving the baby means that the finder become the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of the evening.

To read more about these cakes, and a different variation on the story you can click this link:


Mardi Gras Cups

Main Piece:

SG has been to Mardi Gras almost every year since she was a little kid. Decorated plastic cups are a typical throw in every Mardi Gras Parade. Parades, known as Krewes to the locals, each have a unique name and theme to them. Riders in each parade have “throws”, which are items riders throw off of floats. These commonly include beads and doubloons, but what is solemnly talked about is cups. Cups are a collectible item during Mardi Gras as they have more value than most other throws. Not only can you keep it as a memorate of a parade, but you can use it for years to come. Families collect these and use them as normal drinking vessels in their homes and lives. Go in any cabinet and next to the glass cups you will find various Mardi Gras cups themed to each parade.

A Swig of History: The Mardi Gras Cup | Where Y'at


SG is my mother and has been to Mardi Gras with kids since I was born. She is from New Orleans and attends every year. This was taken during a conversation with her in our backyard while reminiscing Mardi Gras. She still collects cups and send me them each year.


As a New Orleanian and a avid fan of Mardi Gras, as I have been many times before, I did not realize that this was not much of a practice outside of New Orleans, collecting cups to use throughout the years. For instance, after my first year at USC, I missed Mardi Gras for the first time in my life. As a response I got my parents to ship me a King Cake and some decorated cups. In the house I was living in, I used them frequently, and people always commented on the designs on the cups calling them unique. I was so used to using the cups that I never took a moment to think about the designs. Each design reflects the idea of that parade. Krewe D’etat, a parade devoted to a satirical take on the previous year, would have cups that mock events from the last year. Krewe of Muses, an all female parade, would have cups with feminine symbols such as the iconic red lips symbol of the krewe. Each design is unique and can only be gotten if one attended that parade in that year.