Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mardi Gras in South Carolina

“Who got the baby?”
“Did she bite into it?”
“Haha yea.”

This was not a usual conversation heard in our office. I imagine it’s not something heard in most offices north of Louisiana.
But, on Friday, Brenda was quietly enjoying a piece of cake in the office lunchroom, when she bit into a baby. And she lived to tell about it.

Brenda was one co-worker who had never been to New Orleans and has never eaten King Cake before. She bit into her first baby at 70 years old.

“My husband is going to be so tickled when he hears that this will make me queen for the day!” she said on her way out of work.

I didn’t mention to Brenda that when you get the baby you are also required to buy the king cake for next year.

I don’t mind getting a king cake again next year. I’m just glad that no one protested eating it this year.

See, some people in South Carolina aren’t comfortable the idea of a King Cake. This baffles me to no end.

Biting into baby Jesus???” people at the office have said.
“The idea of having the nude baby in my mouth is offensive,” I was told via email in response to my “King cake in the breakroom!!!” email. “ I didn’t know that’s what you did with those babies.”

These reactions confused me. In New Orleans, elementary schools have king cake parties in class every Friday during Mardi Gras season. They are at every grocery store, in almost any kitchen in town. I figured everyone loved king cake. How could you not love king cake?

The problem was, I think, that in that email, I included a short description of the king cake tradition and what each of the parts meant.

“The colors purple, green and gold represent the three wise men who trekked long and far to see Christ Child,” I wrote thoughtfully, cc-ing everyone on the floor. “The baby inside represents baby Jesus.”

That was the year I was working for a larger newspaper in town and didn’t know every person by name. Newspaper staff keep odd hours, and there were 40 reporters or so on day and night shifts.

So, I didn’t know the person who was offended by the king cake personally.
“Count me out," she wrote in my inbox.

I now work at a smaller newspaper, where I have regular conversations with each and every person.
That made last year’s Mardi Gras chastising more personal.

It wasn’t the king cake. Maybe Sherri took that Friday off of work.

She was offended by Mardi Gras Day. Fat Tuesday. The best day of the year.
It was one of the few times I've had to celebrate the day in South Carolina.

“HAPPY MARDI GRAS!” I yelled when I walked into work, throwing beads at both front desk receptionists/classified sales reps.
“Oh…happy Mardi Gras,” Sherri said back, reaching for the gold string of beads that landed on her desk.

Sherri and I were not the closest friends at the office, but she had warmed up to me when I ran a press release about her church’s three-day retreat in the paper.
She was in her mid-40s and a very religious woman, just…not Catholic.

It took me awhile to get to my desk because I was throwing Mardi Gras beads to all the other 11 co-workers. Immedaitely after I sat down, my phone rang. It was Sherri’s extension.

“Hi, Jenny. I didn’t know what Mardi Gras was when I told you Happy Mardi Gras earlier….”
“And I looked it up and it’s a pagan celebration and I would like to take back my Happy Mardi Gras that I said to you.”

“Oh!” I said, throughouly flustered. I was completely thrown off guard. Take back a happy Mardi Gras?
“Oh…I didn’t mean to offend you,” I said. “See, I’m from New Orleans…”
“Oh I know,” she said curtly. “I am not offended. I just wanted to take mine back. I would personally feel better if I took back the happy Mardi Gras.”
“Um, ok.”

That was just the craziest conversation I’ve ever had. Take back a Happy Mardi Gras??? You can’t take back a Happy Mardi Gras! Pagan holiday?
It’s not a pagan holiday! It’s a celebration! The last hurrah before Ash Wednesday and 40 days of Lent until Easter!

“Take back a happy Mardi Gras!?!” I said aloud. The other reporters looked over. I was still staring at the phone.
“That was Sherri from downstairs and she just took back her happy Mardi Gras because it’s….a 'pagan' holiday!”

“Are you serious?” they asked.
“Mardi Gras fail,” the crime reporter laughed.
They all chuckled. At least they get it.

Taking back Mardi Gras, 2009

Sherri left the office last summer. So I felt pretty good about the office embracing the holiday this year.
When the BLACK AND GOLD king cake (Randazzo’s, brah) arrived at work on Friday, I sent out a very "politically correct" email about the cake. No mention of baby Jesus whatsoever.

Subject: King Cake for all!!!

If you get a chance, stop by the lunch/conference room today because I got the office a Mardi Gras King Cake!! It's like a cinnamon bun only round and there is a small plastic baby inside.
If you get a piece with the baby, you are king or queen for the day. It's a New Orleans tradition!
Normally the cake is purple green and gold (mardi gras colors) but this cake is BLACK AND GOLD because THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS ARE GOING TO THE SUPERBOWL!!! Who dat.

Come have a piece!


p.s. let us know if you got the baby!

And, I’m telling you, the cake was a hit! No protests! No burning crosses! I even got nice return emails about it.

“Didn’t get the baby, darn, but it was delicious”

Brenda was so excited.

“Jenny, I found the baby. I was glad Stefan was in the room or you may have
believed I cheated.”

How refreshing! It was the first year that all my co-workers embraced the cake, even asking questions about it — was it authentic? Actually from New Orleans? Do they serve king cake at that Café Du Monde place in the French Quarter?

It was so nice hearing all the New Orleans excitement, rather than hearing fear for the natives’ souls.

Yet, right as I was getting comfortable, an advertising rep threw in a wrench. I had to defend the city once more.
As he helped himself to a slice of the beautiful cake he announced, “You know, I’m more of a Colts fan.”

“Who dat!” I snapped back.

Pfffft. Maybe next year.


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