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A Birthday and a Wild Party

One highlight of the evening is when Epiphany cakes are served to everyone present -- more than 100 people in recent years. The cutting of the cake coincides with the selection of a king and queen who will begin reading Bible passages about Jesus's birth and pick others to join in.

At first, Little Falls Twelfth Night chose a king by placing a dried bean in the cake mix: Whoever found the bean in his slice of the cake became king or queen for the evening and selected someone of the opposite sex as a royal partner. Two years ago, fearing someone might break a tooth, organizers began using alternative methods such as placing a winning card under a chair.

Carnival ends on Mardi Gras, the last day of indulgence before Ash Wednesday. (G.m. Andrews -- Mobile Register Via AP)

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The dried-bean-in-the-cake motif has been used for centuries and has many variants. One version calls for three white fava beans (symbolizing the Magi) and one black fava bean (used to select the king). Others use a coin, pea, pecan or a tiny plastic baby Jesus instead of the dried bean.

Kings and queens of Mari Gras balls often are selected in similar fashion, but they lead the dances rather than Scripture readings.

Another part of the Little Falls celebration is the recitation of religious analogues to the "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Here's a sampling:

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus; two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments; three French hens stood for faith, hope and love; the four calling birds were the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes; and the 12 drummers drumming symbolized the 12 points in the Apostles' Creed.

The Little Falls Twelfth Night booklet says the song originated between 1558 and 1829, an era when Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to express their faith openly and used the song as a catechism to teach their children. Naysayers consider the allegorical reading a fraud, a type of urban legend, and argue that the song was used to teach basic counting skills.

Legitimate or not, the religious interpretation of what many think is a nonsense poem for children makes sense to Kurasz.

"When I hear the song I always think of the hustle and bustle Christmas has become," he said, noting the chaos of people "flying and leaping around" as they shop for gifts, travel and go to parties.

"Maybe that's the real basis," he said of the allegorical reading. "When I put it all together I thought, 'There has to be something to it.' "

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