February has quietly crept upon us this year and with it come two very special events: St. Valentine’s Day on February 14 and the beginning of Mardi Gras on the February 22.
Due to the changing dates for Mardi Gras each year, the much-loved event comes very early this time around, just a week after ol’ Cupid has spent himself shooting arrows at would-be lovers.
Valentine’s Day this year falls on a Thursday and, for some, just might be the start of a long, romantic weekend filled with cards, candy and tender gestures that have come to symbolize the love of one person for another. Florists love this time of year; just about everywhere one looks will be roadside and parking lot tents selling roses and other flowers. Grocery and specialty stores take on a red hue as hearts, cards and balloons adorn the aisles and windows. Valentine’s is a great day to be flirtatious and let someone know you are interested, or more.
The Island community clubs will be alive and full of red and white as the famed day approaches. It’s a great time for drink specials for those that choose to imbibe, as well as a great time for wearing your red and white to the bars or maybe your heart on you sleeve! Galveston always enjoyed the Valentine celebration and this year will be no different.
After all the hugging and kissing is over, you’d better rest up as Mardi Gras starts on February 22. This Friday marks the onset of two weeks of crazy, rollicking fun on Galveston Island. Each year there are over 52 parades, several balls, street parties and private home celebrations.
The history of Mardi Gras is well known and especially for its the significance on the island. Galvestonians and their guests love to line the streets, catch beads, gyrate to the beat of hot music and literally dance anywhere they can. Galveston Mardi Gras is second only to New Orleans.
One of the most important aspects of Mardi Gras is the King Cake or, as some say, King’s Cake. This tradition can be traced back over 300 years when it consisted of dried French bread with a sugar topping and a hard bean hidden inside.
Similar to just about all holiday origins, Mardi Gras and the King Cake also claim roots in Christianity. In the past the celebration started with the Epiphany (when the Magi came to see the infant Jesus) and evolved into a pre-Lenten celebration we know as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) or in some places, Carnival. Tradition has it that on January 6, the three wise men visited the baby Jesus and this date is known as 12th Night. From 12th Night until Fat Tuesday (also known as Shrovetide or Shrove Tuesday) the faithful revelers enjoy parties, feasts and celebrations as they prepare for Lent, starting on the Wednesday following Fat Tuesday. For the faithful these are holy days recognized for their significance in the liturgical calendar.
During this period of celebration and indulgence, followers consume King Cakes and honor the associated traditions. The King Cake tradition arrived in the United States around 1718 from the Basque regions of Europe. Though the tradition has spread throughout the U.S., the southern states have kept King Cake lore very much alive. The original cake in the southern states was a cinnamon-filled, bready cake. In some areas, fruits and jellies were added inside the dough; its topping varied. Tradition has it that the cake was baked in order to honor the three wise men and the coming of the baby Jesus.
The New Orleans King cake is thought to have developed around 1870 and. to this day, pretty much remains the same: a sweet brioche bread, formed into a circle and topped with three sugary coatings of purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power). These three colors, as chosen by the Krewe of Rex in 1872, are to this day the official colors of Mardi Gras.
There is also a Zulu King Cake with chocolate icing and a coconut filling that has been around since the 1870s, as well.
Many traditions are associated with the eating of the King Cake. Historically it is front and center at any Mardi Gras party or gathering. The cake remains a great part of the Mardi Gras tradition today. The old folks said that to eat the King Cake out of the Mardi Gras season would surely cause rain on Fat Tuesday.
Stuffed inside the dough is a small figurine or Feve meant to represent the baby Jesus. Tradition states that whoever finds the baby Jesus in their piece of cake will have luck and prosperity throughout the coming year. Not only does the finder become the King or Queen for the night, but also they must furnish the cake for the next year’s celebration. It is great fun to gather around the table, slice the King Cake and see who gets the baby in their piece.
Like the red hearts for St. Valentine’s Day, the King Cake is just one facet of the celebration for Mardi Gras. If you want to have a great time this year, come visit the Island for two-week party. Who knows, you just might get lucky and find the baby in your piece of cake.
Mardi Gras! Galveston 2019 runs from February 22 to March 5 this year. For parade schedules, routes and other information check out the official website for the City of Galveston at Galveston.com or MardiGrasGalveston.com.