In the Roman Catholic calendar, January 6 is recognized as the Feast of the Epiphany—the day the three Magi visited the baby Jesus, thus representing Jesus’ revelation to the Gentiles. Because the Magi were thought to be kings (although the Biblical nativity stories never suggest this), the Feast of the Epiphany is sometimes called King’s Day.
12th Night, despite all the Christian symbolism associated with it, like most major holidays (including Christmas and Easter), has its origins pre-Christian, pagan cultures. Its roots can be traced back to the ancient Roman festival known as Saturnalia (which was an adaptation of the earlier Greek festival, Kronia). A common theme in both the Kronia and the Saturnalia was a reversal of the social order. Slaves, servants and peasants were honored by their masters and overlords, who served them at lavish banquets. Presiding over the festivities was the Lord of Misrule. Drunkenness, gluttony, and sexual abandon were the hallmarks of these parties.
In Britain, 12th Night celebrations date back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, what we now call Halloween. Most of the 12th Night celebrations were private parties in homes and estates. At these parties, a cake would be served that contained a bean and a pea. Whoever received the slices containing the bean and the pea would reign for the night as King and Queen. According to tradition, king cakes should not be served until 12th Night and never after Mardi Gras.
12th Night celebrations are also a modern incarnation of the Feast of Fools, a popular festival during the Middle Ages, particularly in France, in which a mock bishop or pope was elected, ecclesiastical ritual was parodied, and low and high officials changed places.
In New Orleans, 12th Night marks the beginning of the Carnival Season, which culminates on Mardi Gras. Perhaps the best known 12th Night event in New Orleans is the streetcar ride of the Phunny Phorty Phellows. Although the PPP’s streetcar ride only dates back to 1982, their tradition dates back to 1878, when they used to follow Rex. Also on January 6 is the annual Joan of Arc parade, but this is only because Joan of Arc’s birthday is January 6.
In 1870, the Twelfth Night Revelers, New Orleans second of cial Carnival Krewe, debuted with a nine float parade on January 6, followed by a ball at the French Opera House. As the King Cake was brought in, the Lord of Misrule announced that the cake would only be served to ladies and that whoever received the slice of cake with a bean would be named Queen. Prior to this, there had never been a “Queen” associated with Carnival. At that first ball, the court jesters who were to serve the cake were so drunk they sloppily dropped slices of cake in the ladies laps, or threw slices of cake at them, much to the horror and amusement of those in attendance. The slice with the bean was not found but the following year the jesters were better behaved and Emma Butler was crowned as Queen.
Today 12th Night celebrations are common throughout New Orleans. Many people host King Cake Parties or other celebrations to herald the arrival of the Carnival Season. I began hosting my 12th Night party in 2014.
I had moved into a new apartment the previous year and one of the reasons I leased it was because it was perfect for entertaining (spacious, wrap around balcony on the corner of St. Ann
and Royal). My previous apartment in the FQ was too small to properly entertain. The party was a huge success— open bar, live music (an opera singer), go-go boys serving hors d’ourves, and great food. Roughly 150 attended the first party.
For the 2015 party, I decided to add an element—the coronation of the Grand Reveler. I chose Jeffrey Palmquist, long-time bartender at Café La tte in Exile and a very good friend to be the first Grand Reveler. He in turn chose two lieutenants—Will Antill and Tim Kinzel. During the party, I got everyone’s attention and issued the following proclamation:
WHEREAS THIS NIGHT MARKS THE BEGINNING OF THE CARNIVAL SEASON, AND WHEREAS THE REST OF COUNTRY (WHICH, I UNDERSTAND, EXISTS SOMEWHERE ACROSS THE LAKE) IS SETTLING DOWN TO WORK AFTER THE HOLIDAY SEASON, AND WHEREAS NEW ORLEANS IS JUST GEARING UP FOR MARDI GRAS, AND
WHEREAS MARDI GRAS IS THE MOST AWESOME DAY IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, AND WHEREAS THIS 12TH NIGHT PARTY HAS BECOME AN ANNUAL EVENT,
I, THEREFORE, AS GRAND POTENTATE OF THESE FESTIVE PROCEEDINGS, DO HEREBY DECLARE THE CREATION OF A NEW CARNIVAL CUSTOM: BE IT RESOLVED AND LET IT BE KNOWN THAT I HAVE FORMED THE MYSTIK KREWE DU RUE ROYALE REVELERS, AND FURTHERMORE, LET IT BE KNOWN THAT ALL IN ATTENDANCE HERE TONIGHT ARE HEREBY REVELERS OF THE MYSTIK KREWE, AND LET IT BE KNOWN THAT EACH YEAR ON THIS NIGHT AT THIS JOYOUS CELEBRATION, I WILL DECLARE, NAME AND CROWN A GRAND REVELER TO REIGN OVER NOT ONLY THIS CELEBRATION BUT ALSO THE CARNIVAL SEASON.
AND SO TONIGHT, REVELERS AND ASSORTED DRUNKS, PLEASE MAKE WAY FOR THE ROYAL FLAG BEARER AND LIEUTENANTS AS THEY PRECEDE HIS ROYAL MAJESTY, GRAND REVELER I, JEFF PALMQUIST. JEFFREY, FOR YOUR LONG-TERM SERVICE IN ENABLING OUR ALCOHOLIC IMPULSES, FOR BEING DECLARED A BOTTOM BY THE TIMES-PICAYUNE, FOR SPENDING $1,800 ON CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, FOR NOT KILLING COCA FOR SPENDING $1800 ON CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, FOR SURVIVING QUADRUPLE OPEN BYPASS HEART SURGERY, FOR YOUR UNFORGETTABLE DRAG PERFORMANCE AT OZ, AND FOR BEING A DAMN GOOD BARTENDER AND ALL AROUND GREAT GUY,
I HEREBY CROWN YOU AS HIS ROYAL MAJESTY, GRAND REVELER I
After a few remarks by the Grand Reveler, I informed him:
YOUR MAJESTY, KING CAKE QUEEN XXI, BARBARELLA, AND HER ROYAL COURT OF THE KREWE OF QUEENATEENAS HAVE PETITIONED ENTRY TO PAY THEIR RESPECTS TO YOU. DO YOU GRANT ENTRANCE?
The Grand Reveler said yes, after which I said,
BID THE BORGHESE QUEEN ENTRY
At this point, Barbarella, the reigning King Cake Queen at the time arrived along with her successor, Aubrey Synclaire. A toast was made and thus began the tradition of the Meeting of the Courts of the Mystik Krewe du Rue Royale Revelers and the Krewe of Queenateenas.
Subsequent Grand Revelers were
Will Antill (The Financial District Reveler) and Rip Naquin (The Award Winning Reveler).
Who will be crowned Grand Reveler IV? Find out on January 6! Tickets are available at the Crescent City Tour Booking Agency (638 St. Ann). $20 gets you admission to the party (includes dinner and an open bar), as well as a year long membership in the Krewe du Rue Royale Revelers. Tickets at the door are $25.
The party has outgrown my home’s capacity to host it. For the 2018 party, I have rented out the Double Play Bar. The doors open at 7:00pm. Procession of previous Grand Revelers and Coronation of the new Grand Reveler begins at 8:30pm. The Coronation of Grand Reveler IV will be followed by the Meeting of the Courts of the Rue Royale Revelers and the Krewe of Queenateenas.
The Lord of Misrule and his Mystik Krewe du Rue Royale Revelers command your presence at Frank’s Annual 12th Night Party. As usual, the party will feature lots of booze, delicious food, scantily clad eye candy, and great people. A grand, gay time will be had by all so join us as we kick off Carnival Season!