I expected Christmas to be different in New Orleans and I was right. The people of New Orleans celebrate everything with flourish and style and of course Christmas is no different. So what’s so different about Christmas? Well, it’s the King Cake tradition. It involves a special cake, a tiny baby and a party. The tradition of having King Cake Parties has evolved through time, but no one in New Orleans ever remembers a time when there weren’t King Cake parties after Christmas. The tradition started in New Orleans, no doubt, with the French Catholics. It celebrates the twelfth night after Christmas, January 6th, the Day of the epiphany. The Epiphany is the revelation that the baby Jesus Christ is the son of God who was born as a human being.

Originally, King Cakes were a simple ring of pastry dough (brioche to be exact) with a small amount of colored sugar as decoration. Inside the original King Cakes was a tiny porcelain or gold baby, representing Jesus. If a person received a piece of cake with the baby they were declared King for the day. Over time, people were choking or breaking teeth on the baby, so the baby has become a little larger and plastic, and instead of being baked inside, the baby is is inserted into the cake after baking. The top of the cake is then covered with sugar icing in traditional Mardi Gras colors: Green, purple and gold. In recent years, bakeries have been improvising and making different cream cheese flavors and fruit filled King Cakes. There’s one bakery in New Orleans, Antoine’s, that makes up to 3,500 cakes per day running their bakery 24 hours and hiring additional employees, during what they term as King Cake season. .

If you go to a King Cake party and get the piece of cake with the baby, beware! You are not just the King for the day, you are now required to bring the next King Cake to the next party. Because of this tradition, some offices and schools have King Cakes every day until Mardi Gras season ends. I first heard about King Cakes at an office meeting at Kiva’s Community partner, Good Work Network. Since I first heard I have been carefully watching the bakery section at Rouse’s and Winn Dixie. I have also been eyeing the cases at the local bakeries. I couldn’t wait until after Christmas to buy my first piece of King Cake, so I went to Antoine’s on Carrollton where they sell King Cakes all year round. They actually had pieces of King Cake for sale, so I dove in head first.

Okay, it tastes and smells like a really good cinnamon roll. In fact, the whole experience reminded me of the chain restaurant, Cinnabon. Am I wrong? Would someone from N’Awlins disagree with my assessment? I googled cinnamon rolls and King Cake and got a multiplicity of hits all of which indicated that somewhere along the way, the original brioche style King Cakes have morphed into a coffee cake similar to a Cinnamon roll. In fact, some easy recipes suggest using ready made cinnamon roll dough to make a King Cake.


Finally, the Twelfth day arrives, January 6, 2012, I go to Rouse’s and “Make groceries”. (In N’Awlins you don’t go grocery shopping you make groceries, like you make dinner.) I buy a whole King Cake and plant the baby inside of it from the bottom. The day before, I learned from a man I met at a bar that January 6, is also Joan of Arc’s birthday. She turns 600 in 2012 and much of New Orleans is going to be in the French Quarter to celebrate her birthday with a parade. The parade ends at the Joan of Arc statue given to the City of New Orleans by France.


So what does all of this craziness have to do with microfinance? Not much really. Except to say that this is a very cultural place with traditions steeped in the fabric of the city. If you are a lender to Kiva Nola chances are you are making a loan to a person who is not just celebrating this amazing city, but is participating in the myriad of celebrations from parades, baking king cakes, making costumes, mixing drinks, dancing to playing jazz. They might be a janitor, an accountant, a tire repair shop owner, or small business owner by day but at night they “Laissez le bon temps rouler.”

If you are a small business owner in New Orleans and are thinking about a Kiva loan got to KivaNOLA.org and click on “to borrow” button. If you want to lend, go to the same place and click on the “to lend” button.

Charlotte Makoff
Kiva Fellow | New Orleans

Charlotte is a Kiva Fellow in KF-16, the 16th Kiva Fellows Class, with ASI Federal Credit Union and is now living in New Orleans. Charlotte has lived in India, Japan, and has built houses with Habitat For Humanity in Ethiopia, Zambia and India.

For more information about Kiva, click here. To read about ASI Federal Credit Union, click here. You can also follow Kiva New Orleans on facebook, join the Kiva New Orleans lending team.

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