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King cake - bits & bobs

1. The "king" in Mardi Gras King Cakes is a reference to the Three Kings (Wise Men) who, according to Christian beliefs, arrived in Bethlehem and paid their respects to the baby Jesus on Twelfth Night.

2. The plastic baby in Mardi Gras King Cakes is the modern version of a bean placed in a cake during an early harvest festival.

3. Today, tradition holds that whoever gets the slice of King Cake with the baby inside has to buy the next King Cake.


Mardi Gras 2019 is Tuesday, March 5th

Mardi Gras King Cake

A Grateful Celebration of Community, Epiphany, and the End of Winter

Mardi Gras King Cake
Mardi Gras King Cake in Houma, Louisiana

In times past, rural communities that made it through the harsh winter months celebrated by using wheat from the previous year’s harvest to bake a crown-shaped cake. It was traditional in these celebrations to bake a bean into the cake, and the local man who found the bean reigned over the weeklong festival. In later years, this festive monarch came to be known (in some circles) as the Lord of Misrule.

The tradition of the King Cake also has roots in Christianity.  For some believers, the traditional King Cake (or Kings Cake/Three King’s Cake) is eaten on 12th Night/the Eve of the Epiphany, or the day that the Three Kings arrived to greet the baby Jesus (also the day Christians celebrate God in human form). 

The season for eating King Cake runs from the end of the 12 days of Christmas (Epiphany) thru Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season of fasting.

In later years, the harvest cake and bean have been replaced with a small plastic baby (symbolizing the Christ child) that is tucked inside an oval-shaped cinnamon brioche drenched in fondant and Mardi Gras tri-colored granulated sugar.  The modern custom dictates that whoever (male or female) gets the piece of King Cake with the plastic baby inside buys the next King Cake.

But, be prepared for your king cake to come sans plastic tot.

In recent times, the plastic baby has been removed in some communities over fears that it may create a choking hazard. And, so, while King Cakes remain popular, a tried and true festive tradition may slowly be dying out.


Sources (and External Links)

The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research which led us to the following sources of information:

1. Mardi Gras New Orleans (dot com) - Fresh King Cakes Directly From New Orleans: King Cakes are a vibrant part of the Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans.

2. New Orleans Showcase (dot com) - History of King Cakes: The Tradition of New Orleans Mardi Gras; New Orleans Showcase.

3. AOL News (dot com) - Fat Tuesday 2011: King Cake History and Tradition; Tom Lorenzo; AOL News; March 8, 2011.

4. Christian Resource Institute: - The Twelve Days of Christmas; Dennis Bratche; Christian Resource Institute - The Voice