from the Piece of Cake Mysteries
by Jacklyn Brady
Whew! The Belle Lune Ball is over and carnival season is in full swing. I'm still a relative newcomer to all the excitement, but this isn't my first carnival season, so I thought I'd stop by with some tips for anyone who isn't used to the big-time party atmosphere you'll find in New Orleans this time of year.
First, in case you don't know, Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday," so you'll hear the two terms used interchangeably. Where I come from originally, Mardi Gras is barely a "thing." We know about it, of course. I mean, who doesn't? But we don't really celebrate. I don't remember the last time I actually saw a King Cake for sale somewhere. So for me, the whole carnival thing was an eye-opener, to say the least.
Mardi Gras hits the city early this year. The rest of the world may still be thinking about goal-setting and weight loss, but here in New Orleans we're already in the thick of the party season. (Although, to be fair, that's pretty much all the time for New Orleans.) We do gear up even more than usual for Mardi Gras, though.
Mardi Gras season starts on January 6th each year, the Twelfth Night, or feast of epiphany, and continues until Fat Tuesday. If you don't know how to figure out when Mardi Gras is, get a calendar that has holidays listed and you can calculate it easily. Ash Wednesday is always 46 days before Easter. Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday. (It's also known as Shrove Tuesday, representing that last day of confession and repentance before Lent. Of course, it soon became the last day of feasting and celebration before the deprivations of Lent. In fact, did you know that the word "carnival" was derived from "carne vale" which means "without meat?"
Since today is already the 14th, the kick-off parties, balls, and parades have rolled on by and now we're racing toward Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 9 this year. If you want a complete parade schedule, you can find one here.
At Zydeco, we're already up to our eyeballs in dough, cinnamon, and sprinkles as we make hundreds of King Cakes. In fact, here in New Orleans, we'll sell a combined 500,000 cakes and ship another 50,000 to various parts of the world. That's a lot of dough, a lot of spice, and a whole heap of plastic babies to be baked into the cakes.
That's not the only thing we do up big around here. New Orleans is home to a dozen or more bead suppliers, and the largest of those will sell around a billion pairs of beads for the season. Yeah. A Billion from one supplier. If that doesn't boggle your mind, I don't know what will. But do you know what the traditional colors of beads means?
Purple is for justice
Gold is for power
Green is for faith
We party a lot, and we party hard in New Orleans, but we don't party alone. The city has around 37,000 hotel rooms and roughly 95% of those will be filled for Mardi Gras. That's a lot of visitors. If you're coming to NOLA for the celebration, bring plenty of patience with you. There's nothing to be gained by getting impatient or irritated with the folks around you.
We'll be partying from now until February 9th, so jump in and join us anytime! There's plenty to do in the city. Contrary to popular belief, there's a lot to do that's family friendly, too, so don't shy away from the celebration because you think it's all deviltry and debauchery. In fact, the Saturday and Sunday before Mardi Gras is reserved for Family Gras, and it's free!
Whatever you do and wherever you are on February 9th, I hope you laissez les bon temps rouler! which, of course, means "let the good times roll!"
Jacklyn Brady lives on the Gulf Coast and writes the Piece of Cake Mystery series which is set in New Orleans and features cake artist and trained pastry chef, Rita Lucero. The Cakes of Monte Cristo, 6th in the Piece of Cake Mystery Series, is available at your favorite bookseller now!
photo credit: Venice Italy - Creative Commons by gnuckx via photopin (license)
photo credit: Getting Ready for Mardi Gras in New Orleans Square via photopin (license)