Reaching an Epiphany

While the rest of the United States puts away its holiday party hats on Jan. 6, the Feast of Epiphany, New Orleans does not. It’s Twelfth Night: the official start of Carnival season.

And it was the Twelfth Night Revelers, a krewe that made its debut on Jan. 6, 1870, 13 years after Comus, that helps mark the beginning of festivities. It wasn’t until the following year, in 1871, that the krewe introduced two unique traditions: the golden bean and the king cake. That year, a young woman was presented a large cake with a golden bean hidden inside, which signified her selection as queen. It was supposed to be for the king, but this change was made. At today’s ball, a wooden replica of a large king cake is used. It has small drawers at the bottom, which the ladies’ court opens. Whoever gets the gold bean is queen, those who find silver beans are in the court.

But if you’re not invited to this prestigious bal masque, don’t fret because other costumed revelers, the Phunny Phorty Phellows, hop onto the St. Charles Avenue streetcars to roll down the avenue also heralding the start of Carnival.

An invitation to the first Twelfth Night Revelers bal masque on Jan. 6, 1870.
Courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library, Louisiana Division

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