Ask a New Orleanian what the oldest existing Carnival parades are and he might say, if he knows his stuff, Rex, Proteus and Zulu (Comus and Momus, which would otherwise have been first and third, stopped parading in 1992). Now ask him what the fourth-oldest parade in the state is, and that might give him cause to pause. The phrase “in the state” sounds suspiciously like a trick question. Stymied, the New Orleanian will likely overlook New Roads, where promoters call the town “the Little Carnival Capital of Louisiana.”
Older than all but three Louisiana Carnival krewes (and the oldest outside New Orleans) is New Roads’ rather utilitarian-named Community Center Carnival Club. The club, which began parading in 1922, will celebrate its 83rd anniversary this Mardi Gras. Its march is the opening act of Pointe Coupee Parish’s traditional Carnival day double-header, which also includes another long-lasting Carnival group, the 62-year-old New Roads Lions Carnival Parade.
Names such as those given to the New Roads groups suggest a more functional and less romantic origin than those in New Orleans, where the use of the word “krewe” rather than “club” connotes Old World whimsy and where names were borrowed from classic literature and fanciful kingdoms.
Mardi Gras as it evolved in New Orleans is impossible to duplicate in tradition but somewhat easy to imitate in spirit. Rather than being tight-knit krewes, the New Roads Carnival clubs provide the structure into which various schools and organizations can enter their own floats and in which anyone can ride for a fee. While the early New Orleans krewes were motivated by fraternity and later by the presentation of debutantes, the New Roads groups are in it for one purpose: raising money for charities.
Though their purposes may vary, all Carnival parades in Louisiana have been affected by New Orleans. Floats, maskers, throws, the very fact that the day before Ash Wednesday is a holiday are all part of the New Orleans influence, which was first forged by the Mistick Krewe of Comus in 1857 and popularized by Rex beginning in 1872.
Both New Roads and New Orleans share the angst of an earlier-than-usual date for Mardi Gras 2005 – Feb. 8. The azaleas will have barely started to bud by the time the parades roll in the two towns.
Though the day may be frigid, Rex and the Community Center Carnival Club, marching simultaneously in different places, will prove themselves to be sturdy groups. As the two parades approach their respective towns’ main streets, both can celebrate days of joy and decades of survival.
Carnival royalty toasts Mardi Gras to Neww