The definition of one word helps explain Mardi Gras - debauchery - ‘a life of depraved self-indulgence’!
Those who are experiencing the Mardi Gras season for the first time are innocent souls who have no reason to ask themselves the question the rest of us should ask ourselves – why do we do it?
As a native of New Orleans and a veteran of Mardi Gras from every perspective – spectator, grand marshal and media – I occasionally search for a cerebral explanation of ‘why’.
…do we willingly place ourselves in horrific traffic that often leads to endless detours?
…do we leave the solitude of our vehicles or dwellings and enter on foot into the mass chaos of people drinking, bumping into one another and at times get caught in the midst of a crowd with nowhere to turn?
…do we stand for extended periods of time waiting for a parade that often looks like and sounds like the countless parades we have seen every year over time with the hope of begging for and then fighting for a worthless trinket that bears no meaning the moment after we take possession?
…do women lift their shirts in exchange for a brief moment of attention and a meaningless reward?
…do we spend an entire day wearing a costume that is uncomfortable or a mask that prevents us from having a clear view of the most colorful day of the year?
…do so many make the premeditated decision to start drinking early in the morning as they embark on a day that is known to be a marathon party?
Over the many years I have pondered a cerebral explanation for ‘why’ we do it – the best answer I have come up with is – because we can!!!
New Orleans has a well-established tradition of ‘partying’ which is one of the reasons we do such a great job of hosting events like the Super Bowl. Life for most people is a challenge and we face problems, both big and small. Mardi Gras is one of those moments when our culture celebrates the human need to escape reality as to rejuvenate our minds and our spirits.
Many only see the negative aspects of Mardi Gras and will be quick to criticize the city and the citizens for behavior deemed inappropriate and outrageous. But there are many positive aspects of Mardi Gras we should all recognize.
As people join the massive crowds along parade routes in the suburbs and downtown, we show a strong sense of community. Those standing near us in the crowd often bond over the shared experience and in the moment we make temporary friends. That simple phenomenon reminds us that most people are good and we really do care about each other – even complete strangers.
The act of catching ‘worthless’ beads and trinkets from passing floats gives us a sense of recognition – the hierarchy from the floats chose us among the masses to present us with a prize and in the context of the crowd we have that moment of recognition among our peers. But we also witness the generosity in people when someone catches beads or a trinket and turns and gives them to a child who is lost in the forest of people.
As for the ‘sinful’ aspect of Mardi Gras – let’s remember that the tradition of this season is founded on the solemn religious season of Lent – a time for reconciliation and sacrifice leading to the joyous day on the religious calendar – Easter. Prior to the beginning of Lent, it was customary to sin and frolic in anticipation of an extended period of sacrifice. And while many people enjoy the ‘sinful’ aspect of Mardi Gras and have no intent to make any serious sacrifices during Lent, the tradition continues.
No other city can do what we do during the Mardi Gras season. The police, the city and all those who work to make Mardi Gras fun and safe certainly deserve credit, but the people of New Orleans and the all the people who participate in this seasonal event deserve the most credit.
The atmosphere and collective togetherness that is part of a massive unrehearsed event is only possible because of the unique tradition that was established here many years ago – a tradition you and I continue this weekend and through Fat Tuesday.
It is not only the responsibility of the parades and the artists to maintain the tradition of Mardi Gras, but it is also our responsibility to carry on this amazing tradition that is the envy of the nation!
NOLA, tourist town. tourist spend money. see where this is going? Sure, countless subplots, however, self interest and money fuel the human condition. what more do we need? Mardi Gras is a good thing. Enjoy.