Note: This blog was originally published in 2017.
Carnival season kicks off each year on Twelfth Night. Unlike Mardi Gras’ ever-changing date, Twelfth Night always falls on January 6! It marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, thus officially ending the holiday season. While many religious sects believe that Twelfth Night falls on January 5, here in New Orleans, we celebrate on January 6, the 12th day after Christmas. Those who observe Twelfth Night on January 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, a Mardi Gras Krewe, formalized the tradition. Since then it’s been celebrated in various iterations and forms.
Staunch observers of tradition wait until Twelfth Night to have their first piece 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 bite of king cake.