No Ordinary Time Tuesday, Jan 6 2015 

Haydel's King Cake, Super Bowl, 2010.

Haydel’s King Cake, Super Bowl, 2010.

Today is the Epiphany, which for Catholics marks the end of the Advent/Christmas season. Trees on the curb by December 26th notwithstanding. The period following the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (the Sunday following Epiphany) and the beginning of Lent is called Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar. So church-wise, there will not be a whole lot going on.

However, in New Orleans and in most Catholic-infused cultures, Epiphany marks both the end of Christmas and the beginning of the Carnival season; that is, the season ending with Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, the day of celebration before Ash Wednesday and the solemnity of Lent. So Christmas candles are replaced by King Cakes, while shopping and gift-giving and caroling are replaced by dances, masked balls, and parades.

Joan of Arc Parade, January 2015.

Joan of Arc Parade, January 2015.

So today, in addition to the first King Cakes of the Carnival season (Haydel’s Bakery had Uber delivering them all day), there was the Joan of Arc parade in the French Quarter. And Uptown, the Phunny Phorty Phellows commandeered the St. Charles streetcar line for an evening of frivolity. And as is true every year, this is just the beginning. Goodbye Christmas; welcome to Carnival.

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Carnival 2014 Sunday, Jan 5 2014 

Epiphany_WordleTomorrow is January 6th, the Catholic Feast of the Epiphany, the Twelfth Night, the end of Christmas. It comes from the Greek, epiphaneia, or manifestation, the moment Christ was revealed to the Gentiles as represented by the Three Magi. And in much of the Catholic world, which certainly includes New Orleans, it marks the beginning of Carnival.

Carnival is the period between the end of the Christmas season and beginning of Lent, so this year it runs from January 6th through Mardi Gras, which this year falls on March 4th. In fact, the timing of Mardi Gras means that Carnival will run for 58 days, which is just a few days short of the longest it can be. Nevertheless, the festivities come to a raucous conclusion over the days leading up to and including Mardi Gras. Immediately following, at midnight to be exact, comes Ash Wednesday and the more somber, reflective season of Lent.

Phunny-Phorty-Phellows-RouteIn between the Epiphany and “Trash Wednesday,” the Roman Catholic Church returns to “Ordinary Time,” but in New Orleans, it is anything but ordinary. While most folks are aware of the Mardi Gras parades leading up to Mardi Gras itself, Carnival also features numerous dances, masked balls, and debutante coming out parties. And even though most krewes and social clubs parade over the days leading up to Mardi Gras, there are some parades sprinkled throughout the season. In fact, on Epiphany itself, the members of the Phunny Phorty Phellows, the “Heralds of Carnival,” will mask and take over the St. Charles Streetcar Line to mark the beginning of the festivities.

So cut the king cake, break out the beads, and get ready for the Carnival season.

Of Kings and Carnival Saturday, Jan 5 2013 

In much of the United States, Christmas is over. Christmas trees on the curb the morning of December 6th.  However, according to the Romans Catholic liturgical calendar, Christmas does not start until Christmas Eve and ends on January 6th, known as Epiphany or Twelfth Night. And in Roman Catholic New Orleans, the Church calendar defines Christmas and the weeks beyond.

In New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, Epiphany or King’s Night celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the non-Jewish people of the world, represented by Magi or three kings. It is the feast of gift giving celebrated in much of the Roman Catholic world. For New Orleans, it marks both the end of Christmas and the beginning of Carnival.

Penguin Plunge & Super Bowl 2010 001

King Cake, Mardi Gras beads, and throws.

So, while it marks the close of the Christmas season, Epiphany is the beginning of the Carnival season. And as such, it marks the first appearance of the ubiquitous king cake, which is generally round in shape, with cinnamon flavoring, decorated with glaze or colored sugar in Carnival colors (purple, green and gold). It contains a baby (representing the baby Jesus), a bean, or other trinket. Traditionally, the lucky celebrant who finds this item must provide the next king cake.

Carnival season ends with Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, which is followed by the 40-day Lenten season running up to Easter. King cakes may be served throughout Carnival or king cake season. However, much more goes on during the days leading up to Mardi Gras. In fact, the first Carnival Krewes emerge this weekend to mark a succession of balls, parades, and winter celebrations.

phunny phorty phellowa

Phunny Phorty Phellows, January 6, 2012.

On the evening of January 6th, a relatively new Krewe of Jeanne d’Arc  parades through the French Quarter to mark her birthday and Twelfth Night. The krewe also marks the historical ties between France and New Orleans. A little bit later in the evening, the costumed Phunny Phorty Phellows, the modern incarnation which began in 1981, take over the St. Charles streetcar line, thus marking the anarchic beginning of Carnival.

Thus in New Orleans, the end of one celebration coincides with first day of a new one. And one season of revelry begets another.