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January 5, 2011

The End and A Beginning

Norman M. Covert

How could one not enjoy the traditions of Christmas in Frederick? Music and arts festivities highlight the joyous period, but it ends tomorrow night, Jan. 6, 2011, at historic Steiner House on West Patrick Street, where the Frederick Women’s Civics Club celebrates Twelfth Night (Old Christmas or Epiphany if you will) and crowns its three kings of Mardi Gras.


The ladies-only club carries on a tradition that is little changed as it begins the buildup to Fat Tuesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Somewhere along the way, we devout Christians adopt some pagan rites that intermingle and become an accepted part of our tradition – any excuse for a party.


Epiphany in my home town traditionally meant young men of the Greek Orthodox Church would dive to retrieve a cross, blessed and tossed by a priest into the cold, murky James River, adjacent to the Newport News (Va.) C&O railroad terminal. I respect the holy tradition, but tomorrow I prefer Steiner House’s accouterments.


The club’s formal protocol remains unchanged. It elects and notifies its three kings by November. Their names become a best-kept secret; rarely does word leak. Although the traditional New Orleans version of Mardi Gras presents a gamut of “Kings” for its progressive celebration, Frederick is content with the three, whose selection recognizes their community leadership.


The Kings are formally presented in the Steiner House parlor, witnessed by club members and previous Kings of Mardi Gras. Accompanied by their spouses, the Kings are escorted downstairs individually. Each is crowned and handed his scepter, symbolic of the responsibility to help make Mardi Gras a success.


Profits support Daybreak Adult Day Services, the club’s scholarship fund and maintenance of Steiner House (circa 1820).


There will be King Rex, the older monarch, King Proteus, the middle-aged monarch, then the youthful King Comus. They will be presented at the annual Mardi Gras event Saturday night March 5, 2011, at the Holidome Frederick at the FSK Mall. Dress is formal or, if you prefer, a costume that depicts the free spirits of the ancient pagan celebration.


The Kings annually experience the pride of their moment in the spotlight, but are quickly outdistanced by the sea of young princesses, who follow on the arms, usually, of their fathers.


Mardi Gras becomes the closest event to a “Debutante’s Ball” in Frederick. Each year club members select a group of young ladies who are nominated to be princesses in recognition of their service in the community. One is selected by lottery to be Queen of Mardi Gras.


These high school junior and senior “debs” are bedecked in white formal gowns in a scene they may never again experience, all due to the work of the Frederick Women’s Civics Club. Music will be provided by the Rock and Roll Relics; a DJ will feature current musical styles in the Garden Room.


It is worth mentioning my pride that the chairperson for this year’s event is Nancy (Mitchell) Wynne. Ms. Nancy and husband Bill were school mates at Newport News High School. I was a senior in 1961, she was a freshman, who retains her youthful fervor and has put it to work in many recent club events. She recently retired as a government executive.


I’m all for ready-set-go in Washington, D.C., Frederick City Hall, Winchester Hall and the State House in Annapolis, but with apologies to the political junkies, my colleagues here and ideologues everywhere, give me just one more night to get ready – tomorrow night. Thanks.


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