More quickly than most of us might have perceived, Carnival season is once again upon us here in south Louisiana. Parade schedules have been announced. Royalty for the various krewes have been chosen, and as we write this, Carnival krewes have already begun holding their events, balls and tableaus that include great spectacle for the participants.
We are aware as well that among us are a number of folks who choose not to watch parades, attend balls or participate in Mardi Gras magic. For those whose tastes do not lean toward this annual celebration, know that we hold no ill will. It is as customary for some local families to head for Aspen or other resorts, for what at one point in their own view might have been an escape from Mardi Gras madness but now is a tradition within their family group in and of itself. This means we have four different local approaches to Carnival, those who parade and tableau, those who watch and marvel, those who head for other places and those who just don’t really pay attention much.
All have their interesting components.
But for now, we focus on the local traditions and how they relate to who we are as communities, concerning those who participate either as spectators or purveyors of the fun that spectators are gifted with.
Some might be surprised to learn that what is now celebrated as a pre-Lenten period of faux debauchery, associated culturally and historically as tradition with roots in the Catholic religion, has roots that go deeper still, to pre-Christian, pagan fertility festivals marking the coming of spring and the planting of new crops. Like the later Christian marking of Easter, a sacred time for all who mark it, Carnival season is a time of renewal and celebration. Like the Christian linkage of the solstice and other celebrations with the birth of Christ, the ecclesiastical nod toward Carnival was a matter in ancient times of aiding conversion efforts by folding in customs the people already had with something that could bring them closer to the Church and its own developing customs. Another surprise for Louisianans is the rooting of Carnival not in the Bayou State but, according to various historians, in Mobile, Alabama. Ground zero for the spectacle that is Mardi Gras and its attendant weeks of Carnival parades and parties to the rest of the world, of course, is Louisiana. And while New Orleans is synonymous with Mardi Gras madness, we are quite proud right here in Terrebonne and Lafourche to have our very own celebration that comes right behind that of the Crescent City.
Many decades have passed since the first known floats in Terrebonne Parish made their way down local streets, drawn by mules, in the years following World War II. The start of true Carnival season in Terrebonne and Lafourche is marked by the Chronos parade in Thibodaux -- that city’s oldest -- and the Hercules parade in Houma, the area’s largest.
Known for being more family-friendly than the parades in New Orleans, local parades and related celebrations are events that are unique to this area. They are celebrations of our unique culture and must be respected by all for that reason. While much of the local attention focuses on the big Houma parades held by old-line local krewes, a nod must be given to the smaller parades that wind along bayous Lafourche, Terrebonne and Petit Caillou, where particular emphasis is placed on children, enhancing the magic that is Mardi Gras. If you haven’t been to any of these parades, carefully check the listings in our newspaper noting the times and dates. Each has its own unique traditions, and each is worth a visit for those who haven’t had the opportunity before.
We are proud of the Carnival traditions in our communities. Men, women and children spend countless hours and lots of their own personal money preparing for their parades. The result is the greatest rolling free show in the region. All they ask in return is that the rest of us support their efforts by turning out and celebrating along with them. This is something we heartily support, and hope you will too, if you are in town during days or nights when parades are scheduled to roll.
Laissez le bon temps rouler!