Across the globe, today is just any other Tuesday. But today, in New Orleans, it’s Mardi Gras day. I can remember being young and excited to have the day off to attend the biggest party in the world, and the thought that New Orleans was the only place that was celebrating it was truly bizarre to me. For those of you who don’t know the history, carnival season begins on Kings Day and ends on the day before Ash Wednesday. French for “Fat Tuesday”, it is the last hurrah before the fasting, Lenten season of the 40 days before Easter Sunday.
Most news media outlets would lead you to believe that it is solely a day of debauchery and carelessness accompanied by weird costumes and various objects being thrown from men on floats. And while all of that is certainly ever-present at Mardi Gras, that was hardly what it was about when I was a kid. For me, it was about gathering with family, dressing up in costume, and participating in a joyous party that united an entire city. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of our time spent watching the elaborate parades roll by.
Most New Orleanians prepare for Mardi Gras with kids in a similar fashion. You decide on your spot (neutral ground side or sidewalk side), get up good and early to head out and reserve it, battle some traffic to find a perfect parking spot, roll your Mardi Gras ladder to said spot, stake your claim and wait for the parades. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how spoiled my Mardi Gras experiences were as a kid. Why? Because this is where I used to stand for all the parades:
That top balcony right there used to be home to my Aunt Jackie, and every year we would partake in the revelry from the comfort of her St. Charles Avenue apartment balcony. We had home cooked food, a clean (and free) bathroom, a warm fire on those particularly cold seasons, and a sofa to sit down on when the parades stalled (we’d been known to sit there for an hour or more to wait on a broken down tractor). We were able to take in all of the sights and sounds of Mardi Gras from the comfort of a warm home. I loved it.
This past weekend was the first time I’d ever experienced a parade from the actual street on St. Charles Avenue. While my perspective has changed over the years (I have no interest in standing for more than one parade every few years), the purpose behind the event – quality time and good fun with family and friends – remains the same. Our daughter was born on Mardi Gras day last year, so we met some friends and took her to see her first parade on Sunday. New Orleans did not disappoint. She was inundated with the steady beat of the marching band drums, the vivid colors of each passing float, and the lively anthems of carnival as only the best brass bands can deliver. And like any New Orleans girl would, she loved every minute of it.