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King’s Day Facts to Feast On
From Virginia to Louisiana, how January 6 lends itself to celebration and history
Unbeknownst to many, today – January 6 is one of the most historically-rich days in the calendar year, marking the Epiphany, King’s Day, notable marriages, the official beginning of King Cake and Mardi Gras Season, and Twelfth Night — the finale of Christmas. Celebrated in a variety of ways. This time-honored holiday is observed and celebrated in a variety of ways, reflective of regional styles and customs.
Surprisingly, December 31 was not always the day to toast before a New Year. In the days of our Founding Fathers, January 6 was considered to be the more fashionable time to ring in the year to come, and the most sought-after time for the young and elite to marry or become engaged. January 6 was a day of revelry as illustrated by the wedding of President George Washington in 1759 and the eminent nuptials of his granddaughter, Martha Parke Custis, exactly 36 years later. Nearly two centuries after Washington’s wedding, another president elect, George H.W. Bush, wed his sweetheart on this day.
These presidential movers and shakers around the mighty Potomac were not the only ones who have chosen this date for one of the most significant days of their lives. In the newly acquired Jeffersonian state of Louisiana, the young, rising society ladies and gents looked forward to this day all year. From the former French territory of New Orleans, the social registry runs deep with the blue blood of the city’s most prominent and long-standing denizens. Even now, the exclusive Twelfth Night Ball, held the evening of Epiphany, is the premier event of the year for debutantes as they are introduced to society. At the end of the soirée, the original almond-filled Gateau de Roi is served, containing a small golden bean and a silver pea; and the lucky recipients are dubbed the King and Queen of the Feast or Tableaux. The next time these young women may be donning white dresses will be on their wedding day, when they may likely have a cake with traditional cake pulls each affixed to a fortuitous charm.
The novel concept of a trinket-bearing cake is more closely associated with Mardi Gras, a season between Twelfth Night and Fat Tuesday. These festive, tri-colored glazed cakes of purple, green and gold [symbolizing justice, faith and power] are served weekly during King Cake Season and the recipient of the small prize – a tiny plastic baby – is named Mardi Gras King amongst family and friends. New Orleans native chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery in Arlington, Virginia and Washington, DC celebrate sixth of January to initiate the season of Carnival, a time when Guas will commence serving his traditional brioche King Cake at both of his popular eateries.
Bringing it full circle, no matter what region, era, or reason for the season, January 6 is a day to celebrate — and be celebrated.