Twelfth Night Reveling!

Twelfth Night Reveling

Invitation to the 1884 bal masque of the Twelfth Night Revelers. (Public domain image courtesy the Louisiana State Museum)

Twelfth Night Reveling!

It’s Carnival Time! We’re starting off the season talking about Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany, King’s Day. There are three segments to this week’s pod. In the first segment, we discuss the history of Twelfth Night, from its pre-Christian origins to how we celebrate Epiphany in the modern world.

King Cake

Our second segment is about the part of King’s Day that matters most, King Cake. The tradition of the king cake goes back centuries. Celtic peoples practiced the notion of the “sacred king”. The village or tribe would choose one of their own, a man, to be the sacred king. He would be sacrificed. The sacred king’s blood would flow into the land, an offering to the gods to ensure a good harvest.

When Christianity came to Europe, the concept of human sacrifice as stopped. The “sacred king” became a “Lord of Misrule” who led the celebrations. The selection process for both roles was basically the same. The women of the village would bake bread or a cake, and put a bean into the cake. When the cake was cut up and served, the man who got the bean became the sacred king. In Christian times, the tale was changed, so that the bean represented the Christ child. That’s where the modern concept of “getting the baby” originated.

The modern, commercial king cake came about in the 1930s. Haydel’s Bakery began to include a porcelain “baby” in each cake in the 1960s. The baby became plastic not soon after that.

Buying King Cakes

You can buy Dong Phuong king cakes at the bakery, or at Pizza NOLA in Lakeview

Haydel’s Bakery

Twelfth Night Reveling in New Orleans

Twelfth Night Reveling

The Twelfth Night room at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter

Our third segment walks through Carnival celebrations in early New Orleans, to the first parade, Comus, in 1857. Parading on January 6th began in 1870, with the Twelfth Night Revelers. The krewe paraded in the streets until 1878. After that, they limited their celebration to just a bal masque. Tonight, there will be three parades: The Phunny Phorty Phellows, the Société Des Champs Elysée, and the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc.