It’s Mardi Gras weekend and the city is alive and humming with visitors who might walk away understanding what Mardi Gras really is or who might walk away with nothing more than a headache, some plastic beads, five extra pounds and a few fun memories. Mardi Gras, for those who live in New Orleans and the surrounds suburbs and cities, presents a much richer heritage and tradition than simply consuming large quantities of alcohol. The intoxication from this season is far more varied than if it solely emanated from the obvious source. And I would venture to say that the people of this city could attest to the veracity of this with reflections upon traditions of family and friends, the attachment to community and place that this season forges, the food…so much food…, the stories of Mardi Gras past, the music, and more. Sure revelry plays a role, I’m not sanctifying the holiday or anything. It’s just that, as with anything, Mardi Gras is more than its label–it’s layered, textured, vibrant.

My family’s Mardi Gras traditions when I was growing up fostered some of my favorite childhood memories. Beyond the stress of where to park and where to find a bathroom when you needed one, there was family, there was joy, there was delight, there was Andy Gibb, whose face was emblazoned on a pink t-shirt I wore religiously as a little kid, riding on a float right in front of me. There was the Monday night parade, Hercules, that passed by my grandmother’s house where my family gathered pre-parade–cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles…all of us–to eat Mimi’s meatballs and spaghetti and garlic bread that was so toasty I would accidentally inhale the powdery crumbs and choke a bit before going back for more. Homework would get finished at the table before we could go out to the parade and inevitably, Vanna White was turning letters on the television. There were the death defying moments of riding on my dad’s shoulder’s to garner more throws only to have him swoop down to pick up a doubloon (his favorite-a prized commodity)–he knew I wasn’t going to fall…I, on the other hand, remained less than confident. There were the costumes and the face paint that decorated us on Mardi Gras day. We masked as a family and my mom made our costumes every year (face paint was all my dad though). One year, we went as the band KISS (I was maybe 3 or 4?)…another year as characters from Strawberry Shortcake…each year presented a new opportunity to get dressed up for a day and go have fun-together, as a family. There were parades where we were so cold it didn’t feel worth it, only to be greeted by hot food when we got home. There is all of the junk we carted home that felt necessary, vital even, in the moment and suddenly worthless when exposed by the harsh fluorescent light of the living room. There is a lifetime of memories that sing a harmony far sweeter than if this were really just a holiday about drunken debauchery.

Tomorrow, we will take our kids to one of the famous super-krewes, Endymion. We will pack sandwiches and snacks, and we will wait on the parade route for hours (though some have been there for days). We will probably throw the football and hopefully be able to walk to where they line up the Clydesdales. We will listen to our kids whine “how much longer till the parade gets here???” because this is what you do! And we will sit back in delight and watch the eyes of our children light up as they are dazzled by the magic that is Mardi Gras.

Because, when we allow it, magic is exactly what Mardi Gras creates.

(Day 55–four blogs away from king cake!)


a bit of a divergence from anything attempting to be terribly thoughtful or insightful work in this king cake season blog writing challenge and just an observation of my day…and because I just need to get this out!

Can I just say that parades haven’t even really begun to roll in full force and there is king cake everywhere I go?! For real, this self-forbidden confection, this prize for two months of daily not just writing but also publication, has taken up residence at school, in my home, in grocery stores, at parties, in conversation with my kids, at the juice shop (that also sells the gluten free version I will finally get to partake in on Mardi Gras day)…the temptation seems to spring up in every place I venture, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. If anything, it will only become more prolific with each passing day. On top of all of this general exposure, I am required to actually interact with the king cake that is in my kitchen for my family to enjoy as I hide the baby in the cake, as I slice pieces for my boys, as I open the box just to enjoy the aroma (oh, wait, did I type that? well, now you know the whole truth of the matter). The sweet cinnamon scent whispers on the daily, begging me to partake, whispers…what’s the harm in a little gluten, just enjoy, that blogging audience of yours will never know…and what’s more would they even care..there are lots of pretty important things going on in this world, true battles being fought, what’s a little king cake? But I would know, and because of that I also am aware of the fact that I wouldn’t be able to really enjoy it if I gave in. I made a commitment and I’m going to honor it. (In full disclosure, I came across a vegan gluten free banana bread the other day that was baked in the oval shape of the king cake and decorated with frosting and the tri-colored sugar, a sort of doppelganger king cake. It was tempting. I walked away.)

None of this is the king cake’s fault, of course. This is its season, its time of year. There are those who sell “king cakes” and others who partake of them outside of the January 6-Mardi Gras day time frame, but I say shame on you. If we had king cake year round, would we hold it in the same regard, would it receive the same reverence, would we lose the anticipation and tradition for the sake of sating appetite and indulging in unearned sweet reward? I recognize that I’m doing this all backwards. Mardi Gras is the season of indulgence not restraint and here I am torturing myself…here I am refraining from eating all but one slice of this joyous delight and even that on the last day of the season.

So, this leads me to my next wondering…will this count as my Lenten promise as well?

(Day seven, silly but fun to write and done!)