I had the good fortune to be in New Orleans a week ago, when the weather was nice, and the energy of Mardi Gras was ebullient and building toward today’s final festivities. Alas, NOLA got a cold and rainy day today, which dissuaded the crowds of watchers, but not the celebrants.
I used to think Mardi Gras in New Orleans was just an excuse for tourists to behave badly, like an annual spring break on a grand scale. I am delighted to report that I was wrong; I’ve been corrected by the magic of a great city herself.
Mardi Gras, (literally “Fat Tuesday”), represents the last exuberant, indulgent celebration before the restraint of the Lenten season. For centuries the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter were a serious community ritual, requiring fasting, penance, repentance and self-denial. Although, as a culture, we really don’t deny ourselves much these days, many practicing Christians honor Lent as a season of contemplation and drawing closer to God. Having a great party before undertaking this challenge makes a lot of sense.
As a pan-spiritual lover of ritual celebrations, I adored the wild, creative spirit and joyous self expression as it runs colorfully riot through the streets. I had no idea there were weeks of parades, complete with costumes, singers, dancers, marching bands, glittering feathered gods and goddesses, and lavish gifting from massive floats, and more! It begins after Candlemas and gains momentum until Fat Tuesday itself.
One night as I wandered the streets taking blurry pictures, (see my Flickr, below right) I met a woman in a red dancing dress, and she said to me: “It’s wild, but it isn’t dangerous. This is all about joy!” And I marveled at how true this was. the crowd was full of kids, parents, elders; local people as well as out-of-towners. Everyone was wearing something festive. People were drinking, but this was a celebration of a proud and endlessly creative city, not just an excuse to get buzzed.
It was unseasonably cold and rainy in New Orleans today, and the crowds of spectators were thin. But the performers and artists and dedicated celebrants turned out in splendid profusion, as they do every year, like the first blooms of spring.
Laizzez les bon temps rouler, New Orleans!