Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Happy Mardi Gras!

Don't let the media portrayal of Mardi Gras fool you. What you see on TV-the more salacious aspects and all that nonsense-is confined to one area (Bourbon Street, for the most part, where there are no parades), and is not tolerated in the other family-friendly areas. It's also largely tourists who engage in that behavior. For the natives, Mardi Gras is a family holiday. I went to my first Mardi Gras when I was a year old. You stake out your territory on the grass, eat doughnuts and king cake in the morning, drink coffee and hot chocolate (I remember some very cold Mardi Gras), holler for beads and trinkets, eat fried chicken or prepared sandwiches in the afternoon (some people barbeque and/or cook jambalaya), and pack up in the afternoon. In between gaps in the parade, kids and parents toss footballs back and forth, little kids beg their parents to buy trinkets/cotton candy from the trinkets cart/cotton candy man, and grandparents relax in lawn chairs. Teenagers stroll the street, checking out the crowd and looking for friends. Of course, costuming is a big part of the day (it's not imperative, and it seems that now people either go all out or don't costume at all; when we were kids, we would wear our Halloween costumes from the previous Halloween).

Riding on a float on Mardi Gras day is an incredible experience. You eat breakfast with your krewe, then hop on your float and prepare for an awesome and exhausting day. Your "throws" are already on the float; you prepared them the weekend before Mardi Gras (our krewe rented a park and had a huge cookout).

Music is blaring and the crowd is a blur (and a roar). If anyone you know is hoping to get special throws, you better know exactly where they are. It's very hard to randomly pick out people along the parade route. For one thing, you're masked, and there's just so many people. If you do, you pelt them with your best throws, and hope that your person/people actually catches them.

(You're also eating and drinking your beverage of choice, of course.)

The end of the parade is the craziest. These people have been waiting a long time, and you realize you still have throws left. You definitely don't want to carry them home. You throw everything, including the small beads that no one likes.

You disembark, and your entire body is tired. It's not over yet, because your krewe has jambalaya/hamburgers/hot dogs ready for you. After that, you go home and collapse.

Marching in a parade is also an awesome experience for children. You grow up watching the big kids in the bands and dance troupes march/dance/play, and now you're one of them. It's not uncommon for schools to put on their own little parade and parade throughout the neighborhood. The big kids in the band play their instruments, and each class has a theme to their costume. Everyone throws recycled throws from previous parades to the neighbors and their family. It's easily the cutest thing you'll ever see.

If you play in your high school or middle school band, you'll probably march in a few parades. My sister and brother played instruments in high school, and we would always wait for them (and hope that they played at our spot). It's also popular for local dancing schools to march in parades; I did this for several years. I remember watching the dancing schools march and dance and being so envious; when I was old enough to dance in the parades, I was so proud and excited (especially the big nighttime parades). We had 5 routines to 5 songs, and we would repeat them endlessly along the route. If I'm unfortunate enough to hear a Vanilla Ice or "Pump Up the Jam," I'm tempted to go into my routines. We thought we were so cool.

Everybody in southeastern Louisiana joins in the fun-even the dogs!

Want to hear traditional Mardi Gras songs? Check out this CD.

This is a very simple introduction to Mardi Gras.

This is a cute picture book about Mardi Gras.

This is the official site of Mardi Gras.

This is a Mardi Gras site with kid-friendly activities (I made the shoebox float in elementary school).

When I was in dancing school, we always participated in the Krewe of Little Rascals, which is a children's krewe.

Mardi Gras is Fun! is all about the family-friendly aspect of Mardi Gras.

(Clip art courtesy of Lara's Mardi Gras Clip Art.)

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