THE BEER BEAT: “The Drinking Bout in the Cathedral Porch,” or why it’s time to make the Feast of Fools great again on New Year’s Day.


For a long time on New Year’s Day, I’ve tried to set aside an hour for listening to this compact disc from way back in 1992 — although the subject matter is far older.

New London Consort/Philip Pickett ‎– The Feast Of Fools (La Fête Des Fous • Das Narrenfest)

Make no mistake: “Lux Optata Claruit,” from the section called “Mass Of The Asses, Drunkards And Gamblers,” is drinking music equal to “Gimme a Pigfoot” or “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.”

One need only observe an expanded context.

For all those years at the Public House and later Bank Street Brewhouse, I always wanted to adaptively reuse ideas like the Feast of Fools — and Boxing Day, Curry Night, May Day and Walpurgis Night — although usually these schemes were thwarted by environmental incomprehension, or defeated by logistics reflecting the over-sized scale of my contrarian ambition.

One answer might be to refocus, narrowing one’s expectations and striving for the attainable and sustainable.

With the advent of Pints&Union later in 2018, perhaps Joe Phillips and I can get back to the basics of beer, wine, liquor and merrily subverted liturgy. Maybe a special keg of abbey ale on New Year’s Day, some cassoulet … and medieval music.

The New Year’s Feast That Transformed Fools Into Popes and Kings
, by Sarah Laskow (Atlas Obscura)

In medieval churches, hierarchy was inverted for a day.

THE FEAST OF FOOLS, AS described by the French theologians who condemned it in 1445, sounds like a ton of fun. This New Year’s Day celebration, they wrote, caught up high-ranking church officials in a bacchanal unworthy of their exalted positions.

“Priests and clerks may be seen wearing masks and monstrous visages at the hours of office,” the theologians recounted, presumably with a sniff of horror. “They dance in the choir dressed as women, panders or minstrels. They sing wanton songs. They eat black puddings… while the celebrant is saying mass. They play at dice… They run and leap through the church, without a blush at their own shame.”

Officially banned in the 15th century, the Feast of Fools had its origins 300 years before, in the 1100s, and continued as a tradition well into the 16th century. It was memorialized in church documents condemning its excesses and in paintings depicting streets full of merry chaos. It appears in Victor Hugo’s famous 19th century novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when Quasimodo is swept up in the festivities and crowned King of Fools …