A Quick King Cake History
Curious how the colorful king cake first came to fruition?
The history behind the New Orleans tradition actually dates back to 16th century France during Carnival season. Carnival season starts on Twelfth Night – also called King’s Day – and ends with Mardi Gras. Twelfth Night is traditionally the last night of the Christmas celebration and can fall on January 5th or 6th. Today in New Orleans, most people celebrate it on the 6th.
The cake derives its name from the meaning of Kings' Day – which in Christian tradition is the day that the three kings arrived in Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus . French peasants would share the cake at a Carnival season party. Hidden inside the cake was a bean. Whichever guest found the bean in his piece of cake would be crowned “king” of the party. It was believed that this king would be blessed with new life and good luck in the following year.
French colonists brought this tradition to Louisiana where it evolved with the rest of the modern Mardi Gras celebration.
Modern Day Variations and New Party TraditionsNew Orleanians love a good king cake, and will take every opportunity to partake – at parties, at the office, at parades, everywhere! Since they are only available for such a short period, these cakes are highly sought after during that time. Today, instead of looking for a bean, you’ll be searching for a small plastic baby trinket, which can be found under or in the kings cake.
If you find the baby, you’ll be crowned king – or queen – for the day. This not only ensures your fortune for a year, it also sometimes means you'll receive certain privileges. For example, if the cake is eaten at work, your coworkers might have to treat you to lunch.
In some traditions, being crowned king or queen also comes with responsibilities. It means it's your turn to buy the next cake!
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