It’s Carnival Time!
January 6 is known as King’s Day, Twelfth Night, Epiphany…it all means one thing: Carnival season has arrived!
Those of us who’ve been in New Orleans a long time are experts – no further explanation needed. But we know our city draws in guests from near and far, so as the experts, we feel it’s our duty to share all the ins and outs of King’s Day and the Mardi Gras season.
If you’re visiting New Orleans, this is your first Mardi Gras, or if you just need a refresher, we have the answers.
Let’s start with the basics.
New Orleans was settled by the French, a predominantly Christian people. As you know, Christmas falls on December 25th. The following twelve days are known as the 12 Days of Christmas, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.
January 6th is the twelfth and last day of Christmas, known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany. It marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the time between Christmas and Lent: Mardi Gras season.
“Mardi Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday”, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It’s the last celebration before the Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday, a time when Christians will spend 40 days reflecting upon Jesus’ sacrifice. It’s a solemn time ending with Easter, the Christian celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.
Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Easter change dates year over year. But January 6th is always King’s Day and the beginning of Mardi Gras in New Orleans!
What does this have to do with king cake?
The king cake is historically a representation of Epiphany – the day the three kings found the baby Jesus.
A king cake (at its most basic definition) is an oval-shaped pastry made of cinnamon dough with purple, green, and gold icing or sugar with a small surprise baked inside.
The shape of a king cake represents a crown, meant to symbolize the three kings. The colors are also symbolic – purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power. The surprise, or favor, baked inside the king cake is traditionally a plastic baby, meant to be a representation of the baby Jesus, who the three kings searched far and wide for.
Above all, the king cake represents Mardi Gras – remember: the last celebration before the Lenten season begins.
As a result, you’ll find king cakes everywhere during the Mardi Gras season – at the office, in classrooms, and in homes. The person who finds the surprise inside the king cake (usually a baby), brings the next king cake for all to enjoy!
So how can I celebrate?
Pick up a king cake from a local bakery – Since King’s Day marks the first day of Mardi Gras, and for many traditional New Orleanians, the first day of the year that king cake is enjoyed, it’s the perfect time to pick up a king cake of your own.
Every bakery makes them differently. Many have fillings and flavors. Some choose unique favors to bake into their king cakes instead of the traditional plastic baby.
The sooner you pick up a king cake, the more time you have to try different kinds!
Attend the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc parade – January 6th is also the birthday of Jeanne d’Arc, or Joan of Arc, a famous French patron saint of France. On King’s Day, locals celebrate French heritage by parading through the French Quarter in her honor. This year’s 14th Annual Joan of Arc Procession will begin at 7:00pm. More information, including the parade route, can be found here: https://joanofarcparade.org/who-we-are/parade-route/.
Catch the Phunny Phorty Phellows as they ride the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue – This Carnival krewe celebrates the beginning of Carnival season as they parade through New Orleans’ Uptown area beginning at 7:00pm. What’s unique about this parade is that the krewe rides the St. Charles Streetcar line rather than traditional Mardi Gras floats. More information, including the parade route, can be found here: https://phunnyphortyphellows.com/.
What about the rest of Mardi Gras?
We’re glad you asked! Stay tuned this season as we help you navigate the ins and outs of Carnival in New Orleans. The ACCENT New Orleans team is here for you! Let us know if we can curate the ultimate Mardi Gras experience for you. We are the experts, after all!