Some thoughts of the season
From now through Fat Tuesday, the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of Mardi Gras will increase with each passing day, until the traditional Midnight crescendo is replaced by the annual lapse into piety that is the Catholic season of Lent.
With farewell said to the things of the flesh, as our tradition maintains, the focus can remain on the sacrifices the New Testament attributes to Jesus Christ, as the clock takes us closer to the Good Friday mourning of his death and the Easter celebration of resurrection.
But for now it’s all about king cake, parties, lavish gifts for Mardi Gras royalty and other members of one’s krewe. There are balls and tableaus already underway, and last week there was already a bona fide brawl at a hotel.
What is delightful about Mardi Gras here in these rural parishes is that – just as in New Orleans – what Carnival is to a given individual or group, what its meaning is, is not limited to one interpretation.
For some families it is a season for attending parades and catching throws, which aren’t really worth anything, but will still cause grown adults to step on and over small children in their zeal.
The big, glitzy parades, like Hercules, will see the nights they roll ruled by magic, while the traditional day parades as usual make for a more child-friendly event.
It’s all about the children when Montegut has its parade, and on Bayou Little Caillou the kids play a very important role as well.
Each krewe no matter where provides a snapshot of some aspect of local color and culture. In Lafourche Parish the odd practice of grown men dressed like clowns chasing children, tapping them with switches if they can’t properly recite prayers or their ABC’s, continues.
To outsiders these celebrations and customs must indeed appear odd. And to us they sometimes do as well, I suppose.
But they are ours.
They belong to us and to our communities and as such they all need to be cherished.
Because if you have ever stood on a parade route and witnessed the smile that breaks out on a child’s face after catching some special throw from a noisy, blinking float, then you know that Mardi Gras provides moments that are irreplaceable, that you are just not going to find at another type of parade or gathering in some other state or some other region.
The magic of Mardi Gras lies in the fact that no matter how many times we stand on the misty sidelines of a Houma street, waiting for the same show we see every year, there is still a skip in the heart when the Shriners appear with their motorcycle acrobatics, and even when the local officials pass by waving.
The spotlights that mark the parade presence at night have an effect on us too. We watch for them to come closer and try to guess how good our reckoning is. And we somehow never really get it right. But neither do we care because by the time we figure we were wrong, there are those big Shriner bikes and the excitement starts all over again.
What we are gifted with is this knowledge here in south Louisiana that no matter how many hurricanes hurl floodwater at us, no matter how many oil companies make decisions that threaten our resources, no matter how many external decisions by Washington DC bureaucrats shake us to our economic core, we still have Carnival and it may not be a whole lot but by crawfish it is ours.
Our parades are not as gaudy as the mega-events in New Orleans but they have been created for us, for our people right here, not for the tourists. Which means our float-riders march to their own beat, compromised only by the requirements of local law enforcement. A lot of that makes our parades tamer, but we are not New Orleans and so the parades become a way of making what our community values are.
Again, community by community, this is about expression of selves in a group as much as self being an individual.
And for those reading this who care not for Mardi Gras at all, let the traffic delays and the detours be not a source of discontent but one for reflection. Wait too long? Don’t cuss it out. Just say a prayer or two.
And finally. When you are watching the parade don’t forget to applaud all those kids from all those schools who step and dance and twirl for miles just to help us celebrate, and the parents who follow them to make sure they are okay and have a lot of water. They have come from a distance, at times, just to help us celebrate.
Our own kids, the ones from our local schools, this may be the only chance the entire community gets to see them play that clarinet which is destined for a dark corner under the bed once graduation comes.
So get ready to rock’n’roll in 2014, and lesse les bon temps rouler!