Every year, Mardi Gras revelers line the streets of New Orleans to drink and score some plastic beads. They also line their stomachs with a sugary, colorful cake known as King Cake, which, on occasion, contains a small plastic baby. Meant to symbolize baby Jesus, the King Cake baby bestows good luck upon its recipient, who, according to tradition, must bring the cake to the party the following year.
But another King Cake baby roams New Orleans during Carnival season—one that’s much more terrifying and life-size. Once a year, around Mardi Gras, the city’s resident basketball team, the Pelicans, brings out the King Cake Baby. Clad in a bib reading “I <3 King Cake” and the world’s most dubious diaper, the baby cheers on the team and doles out King Cake to fans. But given his enormous, unblinking eyes and penchant for scaring unsuspecting pedestrians, it’s no surprise that the King Cake Baby has been described as “created in a fever-dream.”
The baby, which is the invention of one Jonathan Bertuccelli, has been a part of the team’s roster since before the Hornets renamed themselves the Pelicans in 2013. It’s also been part of a trio, alongside a king and jester, that appears around the Bacchanalian yearly carnival.
Mascots, creepy or not, have been mainstays at sporting events for decades. But the idea is far older, and the practice is rooted in a once-popular, 19th-century French opera, La Mascotte. In it, a woebegone farmer’s crops are dying, until a chance visit from a woman named Bettina brings him good luck. The mascot has since evolved to symbolize good fortune and, in many cases, beloved creatures. A San Diego college student—who suited up in a chicken costume in 1974—became so popular that people came to Padres games just to see the chicken perform (granted, the team wasn’t very good back then).
But times have changed, and it’s safe to say that sports fans don’t go to Pelicans games just to experience the King Cake Baby’s antics. Most people prefer to stick to cake.
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