As we are coming up on Mardi Gras week, there will be some bakeries that have their king cakes in the display cases soon. To be historically accurate, though, Carnival season starts at Twelfth Night. Yes, child - the party is that long (with occasional breaks for work and sleep) in Louisiana.
New Orleans is a city of great food, from many cultures. The king cake is generally said to have arrived in NOLA from France in the 1870’s. Decorated in purple, gold, and green, (not red, gold, and green, you 80’s kids) the colors signify Justice with purple, Faith with green, and Power with gold. Even the name is linked to Twelfth night, or Three Kings Day, or Epiphany - whatever you call it. January 6 is the date on the calendar when the Magi are traditionally said to have found the infant Jesus.
This is why there is a little plastic baby hidden in the cake after it is baked, not some cannibal ritual, as a past acquaintance tried to insist. (Okay, technically, the celebration of the Eucharist is a cannibalistic ritual, but you are not supposed to EAT the baby.) As this person also forbore to celebrate a heathen holiday such as Halloween in favor of a wholesome Harvest Festival, complete with a king of the harvest and a queen of the corn, I just shook my head at them. Yeah, we’ll be getting back to that story in October.