So it really is just all about the beads.
Going to my first Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana, I was hoping to learn more about the celebration’s cultural significance than just talking to drunk people on the road side as they waited for the parade to start. Just as I wouldn’t want someone to jump to conclusions about my own culture’s traditions, I thought, let’s not walk away from this experience thinking it’s just about beads, drinking, eating and partying. I know there’s history and religious significance to it.
And surely, for a few, there is, and Monroe’s Mardi Gras celebrations are a lot tamer than what I imagine New Orleans’ would be (all the girls kept their shirts on … but maybe that had something to do with the 37-degree weather).
But hardly anyone I talked to brought up the festivities’ religious origins. Then again, I guess even within religious contexts, the purpose of Mardi Gras is to give people an opportunity to let their hair down.
Mardi Gras is the celebration that prefaces Catholics’ observance of Lent. Because many people give up a particular food, beverage or habit during Lent and it’s a period of stringency, Mardi Gras is everyone’s way to let out some steam before they buckle down with their fasting.
Essentially, it’s a big party.
The first Mardi Gras celebration in America took place in 1703 in Mobile, Ala. However, the tradition spread to New Orleans in the 1730s and 1740, with then-Gov. Marquis de Vaudreuil marking the event with elegant galas, according to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras website.
“For our region, for Louisiana, Mardi Gras has been part of our tradition. ‘Fat Tuesday.’ We celebrate from the 12th night til the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It’s just a time when people can get together and have a good time … before the fasting of Lent,” explained the 29th Queen Janus, Nannette White.
And there are always some in the crowd who have more fun than others.
Through the day in Monroe, The News-Star sent me and other staff out to capture the sights and sounds of Mardi Gras events, from children at the “Jungle Gym” parade in Pecanland Mall, to pets promenading through West Monroe’s Antique Alley in the afternoon, and revelers lining Louisiville Avenue to catch beads along the parade route. By nightfall, temperatures were well into the mid-thirties, and still, people were willing to wait on curb sides just to catch handfuls of these coveted beads.
If beads are the main attraction here, I thought, those babies better be made of gold for me to have to bear that.
Thankfully for me, two adorable little girls whom I’d interviewed earlier in the day were so excited to be asked questions for the newspaper, they spontaneously took their beads off and placed them around my neck while I was talking to them. Absolutely touched by the gesture, I wore those beads throughout the day as a memento of my first Mardi Gras.