Saturday, February 6, 2010


As I was wistfully munching the last of my King Cake last night it reminded me how much I love Christmas and the festivities of the season. With the King Cake gone, the season is also almost over for me. Gosh, if I had my druthers I’d celebrate Christmas 365 days a year, and then some.

When I lived in Atlanta and environs I had a cadre of close Friends, most of them associated with the American Scottish Community. Indeed, two of those close Friends were, and remain, Doug and Leah Fraser (kingpins of the Atlanta Scottish Mafia). By extension those Friends included the whole of the Fraser Clan and ultimately the Gentlemen and Miladies of the 78th Fraser Highlanders, Fort New Inverness Garrison. Leah was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. While Doug was the only one of his siblings who was born in the United States (Florida), he soon was back on track in Bracebridge in northern Ontario, Canada, where his Father was a lumberjack and gold prospector of Jack London proportions. Doug grew up (sort of) and his career took him back to the United States where he and Leah ultimately set up a Home and still occupy their Decatur digs. Leah and Doug maintain a strong sense of Family and Clan and cherish their roots. I am honored to be their Friend.

One of the highlights of the Atlanta Christmas season was the now legendary Twelfth Night Party hosted for twenty years by Doug and Leah with the always able assistance of son Cameron (one of my grandsons is also named Cameron). The party would be held on January 5 or the following Saturday evening. Ah contentment with a host of good old and new Friends, liquid refreshments and victuals in sufficiency. There was always incredible music including the ultra talented barrister Henry Franz on his Uilleann pipes and the obligatory, toothsome King Cake always brought by one of the revelers. For most in attendance it was the end of the Christmas season and yet one more excuse to celebrate Friends and Family. Doug and Leah hosted that party for those twenty years to the start of the new millennium, a good beginning with an old tradition.

Without getting into the historical or liturgical end of things too much the Might of Right wanted to define what has always been for this writer a very special celebration which in earlier times also highlighted notions of order and chaos. Twelfth night is literally the twelfth night from Christmas and has been so celebrated since the Middle Ages even if you don’t acknowledge the Roman celebration of Saturnalia which conveniently morphed into Christmastide. We Americans like everything else we touch have put our special spin on this celebration and we’ll reference some of that later.

Some folks are understandably confused about the actual date for Twelfth Night - is it on the 5th or 6th of January? To the Ancients who started this whole thing, the end of day was understandably when the sun went down. The oncoming night was considered the beginning of the next day. Therefore, nights were actually inclusive with the holiday and part of that next day. So for us Moderns the Twelve Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and continue to Twelfth Night (from Christmas) ie the evening of January 5 to midnight. I guess for some descendents and followers of those Ancients it will still be January 6 though their tradition and that now flawed math would still lead them to thirteen not twelve. Whew, please don’t call me….

Twelfth Night back in 18th century America was, frankly, more important than the Papist Christmas and remains one of the most significant days in the Christian calendar as it marks the ramp up to the Feast of the Epiphany, the celebration, among other things, of the revelation of God become Man and the commemoration of the wise men’s visit to Bethlehem.

So what about those so called wise men now commonly accepted as the three kings? Well, they were only identified and described in the Gospel of Matthew though we ran with it from there. As many Biblical scholars and theologians have pointed out ad nauseum, Matthew didn’t say how many there were but was assumed much later that it was (had to be) three because of the number of the gifts they brought (three). On top of that Matthew never said they were kings (they weren’t) as the term used was Magi a reference to Zoroastrism priests (probably Persian or Babylonian) who practiced astrology - then a highly regarded science. Let’s also remember that they were Pagans – Christianity didn’t yet exist, a fact that escapes many. The term kings wasn’t used until much later Christian writings and that (among many other traditions existant) was challenged by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
I guess we know who won that one…

This story has become embellished and tweaked over and over throughout the last two millennia in art and prose and has morphed into what is now a major component of Christian myth and a real metaphor for the acceptance across many cultures of Jesus and Christianity. We see them on Christmas greeting cards, in Christmas carols and if your neighborhood is like mine - in many front yard Christmas light displays.

The Magi represented all people of Faith who were willing to travel from some faraway place (not the orient) to acknowledge the fulfillment of a great prophecy (Isaiah) where the Messiah is, “worshipped by kings”. So does it matter who they were or frankly even if they ever existed? The answer to that question and a winter or summer birth of Jesus is, an unequivocal, emphatic probably not. It’s the great news that we celebrate every December 25th, everything else is icing on the King Cake.

So what’s the big deal? Well, I’m not trying to question one of the holiest of Christian traditions and holidays, rather ponder some contemporary thought on this issue. In our era of ever outward spiraling political correctness (PC) we see and hear that some Christian denominations are now contemplating changing the gender of the “Three Wise Men.” Who knows we may now even see the One Wise Man, One Wise Woman and one Transgender Wise Person? We continue to reinvent and morph the story to meet some artificial purpose and in doing so remove ourselves even further from the true meaning of Christmas. The reason for imposing limits to this story and revisionist PC thinking appear obvious to this writer. Think I’ll write a letter…
Don’t ask, don’t tell?

As we alluded earlier, other great traditions have evolved from the Twelfth Night celebrations including that fervent, carefree folly that we call Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Southern United States, that sensory overindulgence known as Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro and, of course, Mumming. These are excursions in “escapist fantasy” which prepares us for the rest of the year, Lent and the somber Easter season.

So what about Mardi Gras 2010? Well, this celebration begins with Twelfth Night on January 5/6 (choose your poison) and ends on Fat Tuesday on February 16, the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent – a virtual turnabout from revelry to solemnity.

It’s a little different this year as February 7th, slap dab in the middle of Mardi Gras is also Super Bowl Sunday in New Orleans, excuse for the biggest party that The Crescent Cty has seen or will ever see. The Mardi Gras Parade Krewes have already changed their parade schedules literally putting Mardi Gras celebrations on hold for a few hours so folks can watch the New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. It appears to me they are just moving the party to the Superdome. If and when the Saints win you will see one party extraordinaire. I’ll bet the police of The Big Easy go topless that night.
Empty the jails!

The soul of the “Who Dat” will recover from their Katrina induced slumber to once again take its place among the great cities of the world. You’ll see the purple, green and gold colors of Mardi Gras everywhere. Tidbit: The purple and gold of Mardi Gras were influential yea critical in the selection of the Louisiana State University (LSU) school colors.

A little closer to home I paid homage to Mother Betty Buxton as I took down the tree this year. To my Mother Christmas was not only the most sacred holiday of the year, it was the supreme festive time to celebrate and share with Family and Friends. There is a tradition that dictates if your Christmas Tree isn’t removed by Twelfth Night it should stay up all year. Mother’s Christmas tree with its white lights and clear mostly crystal and glass ornaments (some from Mt St. Helens’ obsidian) were striking and always the centerpiece of her holiday home. Mother absolutely loved and embraced that opportunity and during some of her last years in Providence, RI and later in Atlanta she kept her tree up until July which became the focal point and occasion of a great Christmas in July party over at Betty’s when we finally took down the tree only to resurrect it the next December.
Loved those parties which became famous in Atlanta.

So, look for the bean or baby in your King Cake and root for The Saints. Embrace tradition and Laissez les bon temps roulez!


Ned Buxton

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