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Phunny Phorty Phellows
Krewe's Captain Talks About Twelfth Night Streetcar Ride
For those saving up for Fat Tuesday, Twelfth Night may be much ado about nothing. But for serious revelers, the eve of Epiphany means the coming of Carnival, as the Phunny Phorty Phellows embark on their annual streetcar ride along St. Charles Avenue to announce the coming of Carnval.
This Friday, the krewe—costumed, masked, and accompanied by the Storyville Stompers brass band—will pack into a single car and ride the rails, tossing the first beads of the season.
Historically, many believe Twelfth Night evolved from pagan festivities, only becoming a Christian holiday as early Catholics began overwriting pagan celebrations with their own holy days. The Night coincides with Epiphany, which is the last day of the Christmas celebration, marking the beginning of a stint of merry-making that ends with repentance of Ash Wednesday. In New Orleans, Carnival season is remains regarded religious experience, with the wild pagan spirit fully intact.
NoDef chatted with the Captain of the Phunny Phorty Phellows about the annual ride and the role of Twelfth Night in local lore. In keeping with the customs of Carnival krewes, the PPP Captain shall remain anonymous, but trust us when we say they're something of an expert on the traditions of our fair city, and even if you didn’t know them by name, you would probably recognize their voice.
The Captain gave us the history of the Phunny Phorty Phellows, which dates back to the 1890’s when the parade followed Rex and was considered “the dessert of Carnival.” When the krewe was revived in the 1980’s, members decided to parade early in the year, a celebration of the season’s formal beginning.
“We consider ourselves the heralds of Carnival,” the Captain told us. “We’re announcing that the Carnival season has begun, and now it’s officially okay to eat king cake.”
While king cakes are available nearly year-round these days, they’re traditionally only eaten between Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras Day, and PPP incorporates the seasonal treat into their own yearly rituals. Shortly after boarding the streetcar, the Boss and the Queen of the krewe each pass a king cake among the men and women on board, and the two lucky riders who get the tiny plastic babies become the new Boss and Queen of the Phunny Phorty Phellows.
“Some people eat king cake before Twelfth Night,” the Captain said. “I guess they don’t know any better. I won’t admonish you if you do that, but a slice of king cake shall not touch my lips until Friday.”
When the big night comes, the riders will assemble at the Willow Street Car Barn at 6:30, and they invite the public to come out and see them off before their 7:00 departure. There will be costumes and revelry, including a toast from the Krewe of O.A.K.’s “Three Wise Men,” a nod to Twelfth Night’s celebration of the magi arriving in Bethlehem with gifts for baby Jesus. Not to be outdone, Boudreaux D. Nutria, official mascot of the Zyphers, will also be on hand for the festivities.
“It’s a really interesting mix,” said the Captain.
For Carnival collectors, this will be the second year that the Phunny Phorty Phellows give out signature beads, trinkets that will be handed down to parade goers when the streetcar stops. The exact nature of the throws remains a secret, but the beads will presumably be based on the krewe’s mascot, an owl. The owl icon was taken from an old parade bulletin dating back to the late 1800’s that the Captain discovered years ago, and she hopes the new signature throws will soon be considered Carnival keepsakes, like the Zulu coconuts or Muses shoes.
“Twelfth Night has become kind of a big deal,” said the Captain. “People do their own celebrations, and there are people along the route who make it a point to have parties or dinner along the route so they can see us pass by. It’s just quite a sight.”
For more information about the history of the Phunny Phorty Phellows and Friday night’s parade, visit the PPP website.
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