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How to Celebrate Twelfth Night in New Orleans

With Christmas day behind us and the New Year fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about the impending Carnival season, which kicks off each year on Twelfth Night. Unlike Mardi Gras’ ever-changing date, Twelfth Night always falls on Jan. 6. It marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, thus officially ending the holiday season. While some religious sects believe that Twelfth Night falls on Jan. 5, here in New Orleans we celebrate on Jan. 6, the 12th day after Christmas. Those who observe Twelfth Night on Jan. 5 consider Christmas starting at sunset on Christmas Eve.

Twelfth Night is significant here in New Orleans because it is the official start of the Carnival season, which concludes at the end of Mardi Gras Day. Leave it to a city like New Orleans to transition directly from the Christmas holidays to Carnival season. Twelfth Night has always been important in New Orleans, being celebrated and observed as far back as colonial times. However, it wasn’t until post-Civil War in 1870 that the Twelfth Night Revelers formalized the tradition. Since then it’s been celebrated in various iterations and forms.

It’s also important to note that since Carnival season doesn’t start until Twelfth Night, staunch observers of tradition wait until that day to have their first piece of king cake for the year. Local lore goes that if king cake is eaten before Twelfth Night, it will rain on Mardi Gras day. Many wave this off as nonsense and sell king cakes year-round. However, since New Orleans is a city built on traditions and superstitions alike, the majority of people here still observe the practice of waiting until Twelfth Night for that first delicious, gooey, cinnamon-y bite of king cake.

How to Celebrate Twelfth Night in New Orleans

Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc Parade. This medieval-themed walking parade is a theatrical procession inspired by Joan of Arc’s time in 1400s France. The parade begins at 6 p.m. at Toulouse and Decatur Streets, goes through the French Quarter and ends up back on Decatur Street across from Jackson Square. Along the way there are toasts from the Historic New Orleans Collection and Grégor Trumel, Consul General of France in New Orleans, from the Williams Research Center balcony at 400 Chartres St.; a sword blessing at St. Louis Cathedral by Father Philip Landry; ending with the crowning of the king and a king cake ceremony. Revelers are invited to wear gold and join the fun.

The Phunny Phorty Phellows (PPP). The PPP’s annual ride exists to gleefully celebrate the arrival of Carnival time. As per tradition, this small but jovial krewe commandeers a single streetcar for the evening, spreading revelry and merriment all along the St. Charles Streetcar line. This year the PPP kicks off their parade at 7 p.m. Jan. 6 in Uptown at the streetcar barn on Willow Street. The route takes the festive streetcar along the entire length of the streetcar line (all the way downtown to Canal Street) and then retraces its route back to the barn on Willow Street.

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