Growing up ten hours away from our family in Louisiana, my parents always put extra effort into recreating Cajun traditions for us so that we would appreciate our heritage.
This meant eating all the classic Cajun dishes, being die hard Louisiana State University football fans, and celebrating an extra holiday each year: Mardi Gras.
Meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French, Mardi Gras (pronounced “mawdee graw”) is the last day of the celebratory season that runs from Epiphany until Ash Wednesday.
Mardi Gras is a 12 day celebration characterized by exuberant revelers, spirited parades, and extravagant regalia.
Surprisingly, Mardi Gras’ did not originate as a Christian custom but rather a pagan celebration dating back to ancient Rome known as the Lupercalia.
Early church members knew that pagan converts would not be willing to part with their traditional celebrations. Instead of putting an end to the holiday, church officials redirected it with a Christian meaning.
Now, Mardi Gras is known as the carnival season held before the solemn season of Lent though many of the parades and celebrations still maintain Roman mythological namesakes.
There are many different traditions associated with Mardi Gras in South Louisiana. My favorite is the King Cake.
King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras dessert thought to have originated in Spain or France. The Louisiana variation is a cinnamon roll type dough, braided in a circle, and iced with a sugary glaze.
Hidden within the cake is a small plastic baby, representing the baby Jesus. If your piece contains the baby you are King/Queen of the carnival and you must buy the cake/host the party the next year.
King Cakes are decorated in the Mardi Gras colors of Purple (justice), Green (faith), and Gold (power).
Even though we lived so far away from the traditional Mardi Gras festivities, King Cake is one treat my family has never missed.
I have so many fond memories helping my siblings decorate the living room with streamers of purple, green, and gold while my mom finished up making a King Cake.
Tonight, my fiance and I ate our first King Cake together. It wasn’t anything special, just a $5 Kroger special, but its a tradition that he’ll have to get used. Just because we’re ten hours away from Louisiana, doesn’t mean I ever plan to forget where I came from.