On Twelfth Night I threw a party, as I do every year. The Christmas wreath comes down and Carnival (Mardi Gras) decorations go up. I bake a King Cake in celebration of Three Kings Day, also known as The Epiphany.
Most people are confused with the Christian holiday that commemorates the biblical story of the three wise men, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, who followed the star to Bethlehem. They brought gifts to the Christ child.
Christians celebrate Epiphany with a variety of traditions: some cities hold parades, as they do in Florence, Italy. In Latin America children dress up in king costumes and go door to door in their neighborhoods singing carols. Some children leave treats outside, like Christmas Eve milk and Cookies for Santa, except these goodies are for the three kings and their camels.
In France, people eat galette des Rois, or “king cake,” that contains a trinket or bean hidden inside. The person who receives the piece of cake with the trinket becomes the “king” for the day. This year my husband, Jay, found the plastic baby (representing baby Jesus) hidden in his dessert and declared himself “king.”
Twelfth Night or King Cake parties at our house began in 2003, when Jay joined the Krewe of Endymion. This club, based in New Orleans, sponsors the Saturday night parade held the weekend before Fat Tuesday. Now… more confusion: Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras (Mardi is Tuesday in French) a day of feasting and partying. “Carnival” describes the period of time between Twelfth Night, which is always January 6, and Fat Tuesday, which falls on a different date each year, depending on when Easter occurs. Ash Wednesday, which follows Mardi Gras, marks the beginning of the Lenten season, traditionally a time of fasting. Hence, Fat Tuesday originated when people made a habit of gorging themselves with food before making the culinary sacrifices prescribed by the Catholic Church during Lent.
My party menu always features Cajun and Creole food. This year I served spicy Red Beans and Rice and golden sauced Shrimp Ettoufee. King Cake, more like coffee cake, was served for dessert but the real star of the party was Flaming Cafe Brulot. Strong chicory coffee is mixed with sugar, spices and then ignited with warm brandy and Grand Mariner liquor. Gorgeous. (Perhaps the flames got overly wild this year!) As usual, my husband and Gary Granfield did the honors with great fanfare and superior results.
A Twelfth Night party makes a terrific way to end to the Christmas holidays and, of course, look forward to a Mardi Gras trip to Louisiana. Click here to see the recipe for Cafe Brulot.
Thanks to Angela K. Nickerson for the photo of the man in the Renaissance costume parade in Florence.