Today is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, or the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Another king cake season is ending and beads and doubloons will be put away or recycled til next year.
I am learning to see more in Mardi Gras. What other event draws out both the grieving widow with her grown sons and babies less than six months old sporting “my first Mardi Gras” shirts while ensconced in Baby Bjorn front packs? How do native-born New Orleanians watch dozens of parades from the same location year after year and never tire of reaching hands up to catch beads? Why is it still exciting to even the most elderly to make a sign and find a friend who is handing out glittered shoes off Muses float 20? Gigantic marching bands with 3 or 4 groups of dancing, twirling or cheering girls behind rows and rows of tubas, trombones and drums, parade night after night during the week leading up to Mardi Gras. Even kids as young as five will don a uniform and carry an instrument or flag or what have you.
Mardi Gras is truly a celebration of life itself. These parades are not for show, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade or the Rose Parade. They are not done for TV. The floats are sometimes beautiful, but mostly a little tacky. They are functional carriers of masked, costumed people and beads to be redistributed to the masses lining the route, especially to the wildly waving children atop their ladders.
And traditionally, because of snarled traffic and crowded streets, people picnic for hours along the sidewalks and the medians (neutral grounds) eating king cake and fried chicken and drinking whatever suits them. Neighbors and tourists and family open up and talk, eat, and laugh together. It is a party like no other. Inclusive, integrated, intoxicating. It brings people together. Colorful wigs, tu-tus, and hats give the impression of insanity, while making everyone feel comfortable.
If you have never experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you should add it to your bucket list. And we should all celebrate life a little more intentionally, spending more time with people than with our electronic devices.
Happy Mardi Gras everyone!