1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bean-Feast

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BEAN-FEAST, primarily an annual dinner given by an employer to his workpeople, and then colloquially any jollification. The phrase is variously derived. The most probable theory is that which connects it with the custom in France, and afterwards in Germany and England, of a feast on Twelfth Night, at which a cake with a bean buried in it was a great feature. The bean-king was he who had the good fortune to have the slice of cake in which was the bean. This choosing of a king or queen by a bean was formerly a common Christmas diversion at the English and Scottish courts, and in both English universities. This monarch was master of the revels like his congener the lord of misrule. A clue to his original functions is possibly found in the old popular belief that the weather for the ensuing twelve months was determined by the weather of the twelve days from Christmas to Twelfth Night, the weather of each particular month being prognosticated from each day. Thus the king of the bean of Twelfth Night may have originally reigned for the twelve days, his chief duty being the performance of magical ceremonies for ensuring good weather during the ensuing twelve months. Probably in him and the lord of misrule it is correct to find the lineal descendant of the old king of the Saturnalia, the real man who personated Saturn and, when the revels ceased, suffered a real death in his assumed character. Another but most improbable derivation for bean-feast connects it with M.E. bene “prayer,” “request,” the allusion being to the soliciting of alms towards the cost of their Twelfth Night dinner by the workpeople.

See Wayzgoose; Misrule, Lord of; also J. Boemus, Mores, leges et ritus omnium gentium (Lyons, 1541), p. 222; Laisnel de la Salle, Croyances et légendes du centre de la France, i. 19-29; Lecœur, Esquisses du Bocage normand, ii. 125; Schmitz, Sitten und Sagen des Eifler Volkes, i. 6; Brand, Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (Hazlitt’s edit. 1905), under “Twelfth Night”; Cortet, Fêtes religieuses, p. 29 sqq.