King Cake for King’s Day: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Twelfth Night

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King Cake from Sucre

King Cake from Sucre.

It’s King’s Day, so you know what that means, right? It’s time to see some parades and eat some king cake, because it’s the first day of carnival season. Okay, I knew that was going to be your answer but do you know the history of King’s Day and it’s significance to New Orleans? Well, I didn’t either but then I did some research and I’m here to share what I’ve learned.

The Many Names of January 6

If you weren’t aware, King’s Day takes place 12 days after Christmas, which is January 6. This is why you may sometimes hear it referred to as Twelfth Night. You may also hear it called Epiphany, Three King’s Day and a whole bunch of other things. You can call it whatever you want but I mostly have heard others refer to it as Twelfth Night and King’s Day.

If you recognized the name Epiphany from church it’s because the day has religious significance. I’m not going to get into too much detail but in short, it’s the day the three kings arrived to see baby Jesus.

A Great Day for Many Reasons

Before I get into how King’s Day relates to carnival season I’d like to point out an interesting coincidence. I first found out about this in an article Doug MacCash wrote for The Times-Picayune. As it turns out, January 6, is the birthdate of Joan of Arc. Yep, the hero of the Hundred Years War, who has her own statue in the French Quarter, shares a day with the beginning of the New Orleans carnival season.

We aren’t really kicking off carnival season because of her, but we do happen to do it on the same day and usually with a parade from the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc.

Time to Party

Ok, so back to how it relates to New Orleans and carnival season. Well, according to several sources including Becky Retz’s article, “History of Mardi Gras” it is believed that sometime around 1870 an early Mardi Gras krewe decided to take the traditional religious feast that people normally had on King’s Day, and turn it into a parade. In true New Orleans fashion they had a few too many drinks and the parade became less of a religious event and more of a party. From then on it became known as the official start to the carnival season. Ok, I’ve called it carnival season throughout this entire post but let’s be real, it’s Mardi Gras season.

So, that’s the story. If you’re reading this on or past January 6, you should be doing so with a piece of king cake in your hand. You deserve it. Happy Mardi Gras!

 

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