Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The [day after] Mardi Gras Special

I was going to post this yesterday when it was actually relevant, but things just got a little too crazy.

Four years ago, the day after Mardi Gras, I returned home (wearing Mardi Gras beads, of course) after living in New Orleans for more than a year. If somebody had told me before I left what a big deal Mardi Gras is, I wouldn’t have believed them. But after spending two Mardi Gras seasons there, I discovered that Mardi Gras is as important as Christmas, if not more. Elaborate celebrations begin about a month before Fat Tuesday. There is a parade on Veteran’s Blvd every couple of nights, which makes traffic a nightmare. It would sometimes take us more than an hour to get someplace that normally only took 15 minutes from where we lived. Specialty Mardi Gras stores and King Cake bakeries are be madhouses the entire month. If you want a King Cake from somewhere besides Wal-mart, you have to order early. Schools and businesses are closed the week of Mardi Gras. People run around in glittery masks and ball gowns (or nothing much at all) and there’s enough alcohol flowing in the city to fill up the Mississippi. The eat, drink, and be merry crowd comes into town from several surrounding states. In short it’s a carnivalesque feast of indulgence, masquerade and spectacle.

The day after Mardi Gras, the city is still. If you didn’t see the Mardi Gras beads that are casually strewn on trees (and trust me, they stay there a long time), you’d never know that just hours ago a vibrant New Orleans was pulsating with life. It’s a striking contrast, particularly from an outsider’s point of view.

Mardi Gras is insane. Shocking. Horrific, even. But in a strange way, it’s beautiful because it’s important to the people of New Orleans. It’s a reminder to them of where they came from and who they are. And who can blame them for wanting to preserve and celebrate that aspect of their identity?

In Utah, our Mardi Gras comes in the middle of the summer, when we dress up as pioneers and pull wagons down the street in a parade. There are fireworks, and the homemade root beer is abundant (because everybody knows the pioneers had root beer). Businesses are closed and we spend the day commemorating the people who made it possible for us to have what we have and become who we have become.

This doesn’t mean that pioneer stories don’t get old; I personally have been tired of them since age six. (Probably because I don’t actually have any pioneer blood in me—I’m not a purebred, more of a mudblood, like in Harry Potter).

But if there’s anything my time in New Orleans taught me, it’s that claiming and celebrating our heritage is essential to the human experience, and that, perhaps, when we examine traditions in other places, we might find they aren’t so very different from our own traditions.

Happy [day after] Mardi Gras.



1 comment:

Kimberlie said...

Oh Mardi Gras and the endless loud music and crazies come from Veterans Blvd. I will never forget the crazy parade seat ladders that people had for their small children.

Those were the days, my friend.