Friday, January 15, 2010

it's that time of year again...

ahhh, mardi gras...
before we get started, i created this mardi gras playlist for you to enjoy while you read :] click know you wanna!

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there are three types of people in the world:

1. people who live in louisiana - these people have been gearing up for this since the day after christmas. while most of the world is focused on ringing in the new year, as soon as the red and green gift wrap has been put away, us louisianans start seeing purple green and gold. mardi gras is the only holiday on our minds...we start planning the upcoming season's crawfish boils, checking the price of live crawfish EVERY day, until they dip below 2 bucks a pound. we start letting out the wasteline on our favorite pair of pants in anticipation for the amount of king cakes we'll be eating the next few months. we start requesting vacation time off for parade days, and start stockpiling the liquor cabinet for "the big weekend".

2. people who have moved away from louisiana - these people are the ones who, as soon as christmas is over, start kicking themselves in the rear for ever moving away from this wonderful place. what person in their right mind could experience the months of january, february and march without crawfish, king cake and parades?!? it's a mystery i will never understand.

3. finally, we have the rest of you folks...those who have been in the dark their entire lives. those who have never seen the light. those who have never tasted the sweet and delicate taste of that beloved pastry. have never felt the warm juice from a crawfish head rolling down their elbows...never had their sinuses cleared so quickly by that delicious red pepper...for these folks, i make this post.

now for a little history lesson :]

mardi gras (pronounced mah-dee gra) can be traced back to medieval europe. the name means 'fat tuesday'. it was brought to the states by the french-canadian explorer, Jean Baptiste le Moyne Sieur de Bienville in 1699, when he landed on a plot of land about 60 miles south of new orleans. he named the place, "pointe du mardi gras". (he also discovered mobile, alabama, which for those of you who didn't know, was the original capitol of louisiana :] ) to celebrate the french holiday, he started secret societies, which are known today as "krewes" (pronounced like crews). the first secret society was called masque de la mobile and lasted from 1704 - 1709. in 1710, the boeuf graf society was formed, and held the first mardi gras parade, with the first mardi gras float made from giant bull's head, pushed along on wheels by 16 men. crazy, right?
so in 1718, jean baptiste discovered new orleans, and by the 1730's, the holiday was being celebrated openly in the city and surrounding areas, but not in the parade form that we celebrate today. then governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuill established elegant society balls, which are still held today.

by the late 1830's, new orleans street processions where a prominent way to celebrate the holiday, with masked carnival goers parading in the streets and horse drawn carriages and such. at this point, the celebrations became more organized, and local newspapers started printing events related to the holiday in advance.

in the 1870's, the third krewe was established...The Twelfth Night Krewe. this krewe established the first mardi gras "throws" (beads, dubloons and such that are thrown from floats). later that decade, a group of businessmen established a King of Carnival, Rex, to lead the first daytime parade. the Rex parade was where the colors of mardi gras, the mardi gras song and the mardi gras flag were introduced.

during the 1870's the governor of louisiana signed the mardi gras act, making it a legal holiday in our state. all government offices and schools close for lundi gras and mardi gras (monday and tuesday :] )

nowadays, mardi gras is a 5 day long celebration, starting on the friday before, extending all way until midnight on fat tuesday. once midnight hits, mardi gras is officially over and the streets literally shut down. during the parades, people will literally do just about anything for beads, because, well, as we all know...the bigger the beads, the better :] really, you just have to experience it to understand it...i think it's something everyone should do at least once.

here's a little mardi gras eye candy for you...

if you want the folks on a float to throw you anything, you have to say these words

brass bands are EVERYWHERE, playing zydeco and jazz

beads are a big deal. the bigger the better. :]

the french quarter is so beautiful, especially when decorated for mardi gras!

that giant head above is Rex, the King of Carnival

so now that you all have a little understanding of the holiday (sorry for the boring history lesson), let's talk about king cake! this history lesson will be much more fun, i, there's a giveaway at the end! :]

the history of the king cake began in 12th century france, where bakeries would bake a cake on the eve of january 6th, to celebrate the visit of christ by the three kings. a small token was usually hidden inside of the pastry as a surprise for the finder. the cake is generally oval shaped (imagine a racetrack), and is similar to coffee cake dough, laced with cinnamon. the dough is rolled out into a long tube, then shaped into an oval. a small plastic baby is inserted into the dough as the "token" spoken of earlier. it symbolizes baby Jesus, and how difficult it was for the wisemen to find him. once the cake is baked, it is iced and sprinkled with a thick layer of granulated sugar, usually colored in purple, green and gold. the best king cakes are filled with your choice of filling. my favorites are strawberry and cream cheese, apple, chocolate and coconut, and praline :] there are hundreds of traditional flavors to choose from, and most bakeries offer a special flavor specific to their bakery.

in the 18th century, french settlers brought the custom to louisiana. the first king cake of the season was served on january 6th. whoever found the baby was allowed to choose a mock court, and were required to host the next king cake party (parties were held weekly from january 6th until mardi gras). in the lat 1870's, the Twelfth Night Revelers held their balll with a large king cake as the main attraction. instead of choosing a sacred king for the ball, they used a bean in the cake to choose the queen. this tradition is carried on to this day. now, a large wooden replica of a king cake is used, with various small drawers along the lower layer. all the girls at the ball open a drawer. if they find a silver bean, they are a member of the mardi gras court, and if they find the gold bean, they are the queen.

now, when your eating the cake with friends and family, it's tradition for whomever finds the baby to buy the next king cake :]

so, in honor of this holiday, and the traditions it includes, i am giving away a king cake :] the winner will be chosen one week from today. i will order a king cake in the flavor of their choice from my favorite local bakery, and ship it to the winner, along with some other fun mardi gras staples. everything you'll need to celebrate the holiday wherever you are :] this is my way of sharing my family's heritage and my state's legacy with you wonderful folks out there! to enter, leave a comment telling everyone something cool that is specific to where you live, sort of like mardi gras is to louisiana. :] tweet about the giveaway (be sure to use @emjay0121) for a second entry, and for a third, blog about the giveaway and leave a link in the comment section. i look forward to hearing some of your stories! :]



Lindsay said...

OMG I miss Louisiana, leaving wasnt by choice so I would say im number 1 1/2 :) lol ok since I have to say something nice about North Dakota I will say that it is very quiet. Quiet is good :) oh and has a low crime rate, thats good too :)

Jamie said...

OMG! How fun!!! & delicious!!!! This is an awesome giveaway!!!!

Ok, my small town (of 1,000 people) has a yearly celebration called "Bean Days". There is a parade and everybody lines up at the school gym for free ham and beans. Our town is called the "Bean Capital of the World". There is also a Bean Queen, complete with pageant and she gets to sit on the back of a convertible during the parade. Wanna know a secret??? My senior year of high school, I entered the pageant. Ha!
What's even more interesting (if possible) is that a neighboring town has "Pork Days" and yes. I hate to say it but there is a "Pork Queen".

ZoiHoku said...

I love that you shared this history with us. I've always wanted to go down your way for the holiday, but I honestly never really knew where it all started. I would love to share something about where I live....but I don't know too much because I'm fairly new and it's a really small place. however, I am originally from the Cherry Capital of the World - Traverse city, MI. There they have a Cherry festival starting the first weekend of July. It is huge...several parades, a carnival, events everyday all day, a pageant with a cherry Queen, raffles, auctins, contests...all kinds of stuff. Of course firewoks too. It's so much fun!

Carrie said...

Wow a King cake great giveaway! I would love to go Mardi Gras.

I live in a tiny little town the only thing we have is a huge lake that attracts tourist our town saying is the best town in Georgia by a dam site. because we have a dam I know its dumb but hey that what we have lol!

Lindsay said...


mel said...

wow this sounds awesome. i would love to experience it someday! and thanks for the history - so fun to read!
i actually (and have yet to blog about it) just went to my first "galette du rois" party this week - it's the cake thing, but in the original french tradition. my boyfriend was the king... i will blog about it this weekend, the details are a little different but sooo close.
and i'd love to enter the giveaway, but i wouldn't want you to pay to ship a cake to france. i can buy one (that looks a little different here.)
as for things about my hometown... we are the home of the "persian" a delicious dessert, mostly a flat cinnamon bun with raspberry icing on it. we even have restaurants called "the persian man."
not really any city parades though, just for canada day.. a bit of a shame really! ha ha

Penny said...

i loved this post!! it sounds so much fun!! and the king cake... i'm craving some!!
in spain we have something similar, because we celebrate the day the 3 Kings visited Baby Jesus briging him presents (so parents give presents to their children as on Christmas Day. in fact, in most houses, there are presents in king's day instead of christmas eve)
The 5th January there are huge parades all over the country to welcome the kings, and that night they leave presents in the houses,so the 6th is a bank holiday (christmas holidays here are specially long, because they don't finish until kings' day). that day we have a special cake too that's called "roscon de reyes" that is similar to your king's cake. this is the one we had this year: there's a dry bean (bad luck) and a small figure (good luck) inside. whoever gets the bean has to pay for the cake, and whoever gets the figure will have good luck and is the "king".

amy lapi said...

wow! thank you for this! i fall into three, but i've always wnted to visit. maybe someday??

lizzie said...

i have to say... the drive thru daiquiri place is my favorite drive thru place ever... mmmm amaretto pineapple ... i miss that about nola.

Emma Leigh said...

I LOVE this giveaway!!!

I'm from Louisiana too! I have to say that crawfish season and Louisiana strawberries are my absolute favorite of all :)

sara said...

This is such a fun giveaway!

Hmm, I'm from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

There's five universities here?

Haha hmm I'm not sure whatelse I could say!

Nova Scotia is considered "Canada's Ocean Playground." Because there are lots of ports. We're home to Peggys Cove as well as the light house route :)

Jane said...

Awesome giveway! I've always wanted to go to Mardis Gras. Those cakes look yummy! Here in Fort St. John, BC Canada we have a few traditions. In the summer we have a rodeo but the big one is the Calgary Stampede which is about 9 hours from here. Right now we have the "High on Ice Festival" which draws ice carvers from all over the world who come and carve ice sculptures and compete. They make an ice slide for the kids and on the evening before the last day they have a "Fire and Ice" show where they light a bonfire in the middle of an ice castle and watch it burn and melt. Pretty cool for us small town northerners.

Mama Ventura said...

Wow! That looks AMAZING!

I live in a smallish town in AZ called Gilbert. We have a weeklong festival here every year called Gilbert Days. There is a parade , carnival and a rodeo.

I don't need a King Cake though, I'm vegan. It does look very very yummy.

Christine said...

I live in Burlington, NJ. Every year we have a wood street fair, nothing to compair to mardi gras ... but its something that always happenes just about fall time. It all locals and they all sell things and stuff. We also have a huge yard-sale day where almost the WHOLE town participates!

Allison Drew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allison Drew said...

Louisiana is my favorite state. i'm in love with crazy deep south culture. This year I've decided to make no less than 3 different flavors of king cake. I'll let you know how they turn out! Yum!

In Lake City, Fl we have the Olustee Festival. It celebrates the southern most battle (won by the south) fought in the civil war. We actually have a large reenactment of the battle. It's the best time of year to be in these parts.

Lindsay said...

I live in Dallas, TX and I would have to say my favorite "tradition" would have to be the Texas State Fair. I always have to go at least twice. Once to try all the tastey fried foods...This year we had fried queso, fried butter, fried PB&J with bananas, fried cookie dough, fried stuffed peppers, fried nutter butters, fried oreos and not fried, but delicious anyways, roasted corn. You also need another day for riding all the rides and visiting the car show and petting zoo. It's so much fun kids even get a day off of school to visit.

ashleyrwatts said...

Omgsh Em this is the coolest thing I've ever heard of. Don't get me wrong, I've heard of Mardi Gras...but never to this extent. I love it! lol

And I think it's awesome you're doing a giveaway for it!

Let's see...there's really not much to say about my area in GA. We have a Christmas parade?? haha
Oh, oh! We (used to?) have something we call the Kudzu festival every year. It's not much, but as you know, Kudzu is synonymous with the south ("the vine that ate the South"), lol. The festival usually involves some rides and free entertainment.

Off to tweet and blog this now :)

(PS - I'm loving the playlist!)

ashleyrwatts said...

I blogged:

...and tweeted!:

Sandy said...

Not sure where I saw this giveaway posted but I just had to post. I'm not joining the giveaway since I too am a Louisiana girl and of course have access to king cakes right now, give the others a chance. ;)

I live an hour north of New Orleans and love Mardi Gras. So much fun and the king cake. Yummy.

Thanks for the great post and loved reading the history.

BWatts said...

ok so im soooo going to miss mardi gras for the first time in my life!!!! ahhh i have already been talking about how am i going to get a king cake up here to me! haha
but as for kentucky we have keenland for the horse races. its very must have a mint julep and bet on the horse that you like (for me and mom its the one in pink or the prettiest one) and go watch the the race and hope you win! haha they say that if you bet with 2 dollar bills your sure to win...but i havnt won yet! haha soooo please send me a king cake or i may just die!

Tiffany said...

Well... I suppose our biggest thing here in Columbus, Ohio is Ohio State football. Our college team has historically been one of the best football teams in the country, and every fall..the saturdays become where everyone it seems is watching.

I worked at a retirement home for 5+ years and most of them would watch it either in their apartment or in the multipurpose room on the "big screen" (a film projector hooked up).

Now I go to OSU myself-and I still have not fallen into the thing (I like other sports, but football is not one of them)... but even so, that doesn't mean I can't admit it happens. :)

I love love love food. And purple is one of my favorite colors. Thanks for the fun giveaway!! :)

PS If you are looking for a penpal let me know, i'm looking for some crafty mail pails. :)

Caitlin said...

Hmm, well in Massachusetts because of its history with the English we have an extra holiday off from school and work, Patriots Day. It's on the day the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. We don't really do anything special although some towns have parades and such. Nothing like Mardi Gras :)

Kristi said...

What a great story! I loved the lesson!

I live in Phoenix, AZ and I cannot think of any day specifically that we have a regional celebration for, except for when it rains! We do however, have some of the best sunsets that I have witnessed, From mexico to Flagstaff! They are fantastic!

Kate and Oli said...

I live in a beachy suburb of los angeles and every year we have a "hometown fair". everyone heads to the beach to wander among the vendors, and people bring their dogs and kids and there's a chili cook-off. it gives a small town feel to a city 15 miles from downtown los angeles. :)

so glad i found your blog, it's lovely!

xo, katie

Kate and Oli said...

i tweeted!!!

BWatts said...

oh and i blogged about it too! :)
miss you like a crazy person!

Miss Wanderlust said...

hey hey I totally thought that I entered this contest :)
I did tweet about it last week and I know I blogged about it too I just never left a comment apparently :)
I loooooove the traditions of Mardi Gras.
We have a huge parade in St. Lous (not even close to being as huge as LA obviously). Every year we have the VP fair on 4th of July here it's huge and fun and full of fireworks. Again, not as cool as LA but pretty cool :)
I love you and I would Loooooooove me some king cake!!! i had some when I was down there rebuilding homes for the Katrina Releif :) sooo rad!

Anna said...

we have the pumpkin festival where i live in ohio. people compete for the king pumpkin, it is crazy!

Anna said...

& i tweeted :)

Anna said...

and i blogged.

kimi said...

i truly love this history. i never knew anything about it till i moved to texas.

where i come high school sports are a huge thing. homecoming was the biggest thing around those parts, all the high school organizations would make a float and everyone from town would go. then that night was the football game, where there was a huge half-time show with the band and dance and cheer teams. it was always so much fun.

Jamie said...

i loveeee new orleans! but i've never done mardi gras! king cake though! yummms!!
houston has galveston mardi gras sooo close, but new orleans is the original for sure:)


Chelseabird said...

Hope it's not too late to enter! I just LOVE the whole concept of this giveaway! What a great idea! King cake has always fascinated me, but yet I've never had the chance to try it. Maybe this will change my luck!

I live in Mesa, Arizona, which is a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. With having over a million people living in my town there are lots of opportunities to have special celebrations,my favorite being First Fridays art walk. This is a monthly celebration of local artists and their art. I've been going to First Fridays for many, many years and have seen it change drastically into a tiny free for all street festival, into a very organized city celebration. It's my absolute favorite thing to do every month and I can't wait for the next one!

Hope you're having a lovely day!

<3 Chelsea

starsanderin said...

I hope you get a chance to read my blog that I added my own hometown traditions and photographs to!

Your reader - Erin

Bárbara said...

Hey! In México if you find the Baby in the king cake you'll have to make the famous "tamales", then we make a dinner on frebuary,2.