If you are not from Louisiana, haven't been there before or haven't researched about its history, then you most likely don’t know much about what Mardi Gras is about unless you have friends and family from there who can share you some of the stories about it. Ever since living in Texas these past couple years, especially around this part of the year, I have experienced Mardi Gras season at the grocery stores or at work when they brought in a gigantic king's cake in the break room. Yet, at the same time, I never knew what the meaning was behind it until recently when a stranger at a table quickly became my friend during a conversation about food and traditions. My new friend told me that it had something to do with “preparing yourself to sacrifice something before the 4 weeks of Lent”, which is the fasting month for Christians around the world. This made me curious and I thought this has to be something that people would be interested in because it is such a colorful tradition connecting everyone with each other, so to me Mardi Gras became something worth looking more into.
Its Meaning & Religious Flair
According to History website that reflects on diverse historical events in a very fascinating and deep manner, Mardi Gras literally translated into French means “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi is Tuesday and Gras is fat) (see for more info: https://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-mardi-gras). The Mardi Gras season officially starts around the 6th of January, on Epiphany, which is a Christian holiday that is also known by two other names: “Three Kings Day” or “The Twelfth Day of Christmas”. Apparently, in many cultures around the world this is a time period that is also celebrated and known as the “Carnival”. Mardi Gras ends when Ash Wednesday arrives, simultaneously, marking the first day of Lent. Despite the Christian elements of Mardi Gras, many people believe that it also has ancient Pagan traits because of its connections with springtime and fertility. Then you have other experts who claim Mardi Gras came into existence because the Catholic Church discouraged sex and meat while fasting during the month of Lent. One could argue that it's a combination of all these elements, making it a very multi-faceted occasion.
More Historical Background
The day that people believe brought Mardi Gras to North America was March 3rd, 1699 when Pierre Le Moyne d’ Iberville, a French-Canadian explorer declared his camping spot to be about 60 miles from New Orleans, Louisiana. With his French background and knowing it was Fat Tuesday in France that day in 1699, he named his camping spot “Point du Mardi Gras”, which later became known as Mobile, Alabama. Pierre Le Moyne d' Iberville also held a little gala here which sparked everyone's curiosity and meant lots of entertainment and extraordinary performances for those attending. To-date, Mobile, Alabama is the place where the oldest and most popular Mardi Gras celebrations take place. A couple years later, French soldiers and French settlers started to arrive here too and began to feast and wear masks as part of celebrating Mardi Gras. This is how its traditional festivities were extended, up until today.
What’s Up with the King’s Cake?
Mardi Gras without a king’s cake is no Mardi Gras. When asking a bakery clerk at a grocery store about how they make king cakes, she described it to me as baking a huge cinnamon roll. I thought that was interesting. Plus, it made me even crave one because I love cinnamon rolls so much. It’s one of my favorite treats.
When researching more on the King’s cake, I discovered that it’s made from brioche dough (brioche is French for a sweet bun pastry). The brioche dough gets “braided and laced” with cinnamon, then the dough itself gets “glazed with purple, green and gold sugar” or it gets purple, green and gold icing on top. Inside the brioche is a tiny plastic baby hidden. It is told that whoever finds that baby while eating the cake, must buy the next king’s cake and/or even host the next Mardi Gras party. This is how the tradition of Mardi Gras continues and never ends.
The Three Mardi Gras Colors: Purple, Green & Gold
Many people don’t realize that there is a reason for using these three colors for Mardi Gras festivities, especially for the king cakes and the beads that people wear during this season. Looking into the history of it, you will find out that its origins are, specifically, from New Orleans, Louisiana. Manny Randazzo is a family business located in Metairie, Louisiana that runs a bakery since 1992. They bake tasty and high-quality king cakes by their family recipe that are very popular. On their website, they write about the three colors of Mardi Gras. According to them, it was in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1872, when the first Rex parade, a parade celebrating the King (in Latin: king is rex) with a live ox, took place and the King at the time of this carnival was the one who determined those three colors (see form more info: https://rexorganization.com/).
While some assume that these three colors were chosen to honor the Russian duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanoff, who ruled at the time, there is still quite a lot of speculation around it. In general, the color purple is known to symbolize royalty, while the color gold is very popular among kings since it represents the color of the crowns they wear. The color green, on the other hand, apparently is regarded as “a suitable color for a coat of arms” and green, in those times, was known to best match with purple. Beyond that, the King himself declared each color a specific meaning during the Rex celebration (see for more info: https://randazzokingcake.com/). To him, purple stood for justice, green stood for faith and gold stood for power. Combining all three meant melting justice, faith and power into one entity.
Now isn’t that a marvelous story to share? I sure think it is (even if Mardi Gras is over by now, maybe you will remember some of its details next year around).