Since its inception in Southern Louisiana in 1699, the event known as Mardi Gras has become a staple of New Orleans and serves as one of the many symbols that represent the city. If you’re a local (or a tourist who watches way too much Girls Gone Wild), then you should know all about the traditions that are commonly associated with Mardi Gras: king cakes, parades, throws, balls, etc. We know them; we love them; we kind of get sick of them by the time Ash Wednesday finally rolls around. However, did you know that there are some hidden beliefs surrounding these traditions? Whether for religious purposes or pure superstitions, people have attached deeper meanings to these traditions, and we’re here to spotlight a few of them for y’all.
Let’s start off with every local’s favorite dessert: the king cake. This tasty cinnamon treat has quite a few beliefs surrounding it. Did you know that eating a king cake outside of Carnival season will bring bad luck? Quite a few bakeries decide to sell customers king cake outside of the season, but many people believe that if you eat it at any time not during Carnival, then it will rain on Mardi Gras day. Go ahead and buy a king cake the next time you’re at Manny Randazzo, Gambino’s, or Antoine’s Bakery, but think real hard about the weather you might cause if you bite into that cake out of season.
Speaking of biting, chances are that most of us have almost broken a tooth while eating a king cake because of the plastic baby inside. Well, did you realize that the small dentist-trip-waiting-to-happen trinket is actually Jesus? (Not ACTUALLY Jesus, mind you; try telling some Christians you found God in a cake and don’t be surprised by the looks they give you). But yes, it’s true. Originally, the baby in the king cake symbolized the baby Jesus. Nowadays, the baby mostly represents good fortune and prosperity, and if you do get the baby, some people will even treat you like a king or queen for the day. You’re shackled with buying the next king cake or throwing the next Mardi Gras party, but at least you’re treated like royalty for a day.
The act of wearing a mask or costume at Mardi Gras has beliefs that stem from all the way back to the 17th century. Back then, people were under strict social conduct rules. However, by wearing a mask to Mardi Gras events, the stigma of intermingling outside of your social class evaporated and the community truly came together to have a good time. Just like at Halloween, people believe that by dressing up and wearing masks, they can come together with others in the community, leave their biases or social class at home, and just let their freak flags fly.
Another belief is that you’ll be destined for great things and have good luck if you catch beads during a parade. I know, sounds silly (“Catching this tiny, plastic, crawfish bead will set me up for life?”). Well in 1872, to celebrate having Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia as the guest of honor for the very first Rex parade, beads decorated with three symbolic colors (gold for power, purple for justice, and green for faith) were tossed to spectators who appeared to embody all of these traits. So, some people believe that catching beads means that they will receive these three perks in their lives and therefore will try to catch as many as they can. That’s a fun idea and all, but remember these three things: 1.) don’t get a swollen ego because you’ve got more beads than anyone else, 2.) don’t hurt anyone around you in the pursuit of more beads, and 3.) don’t dislocate your spine by wearing all of that crap on your neck.
There are many Mardi Gras beliefs that are as old as dirt and others that are being made up in recent years. No matter what you believe, though, all can agree that Mardi Gras is something worth believing in.