Carnival in the New New Orleans

I’ve written many times this past year about tradition – holidays, families, celebrations – but I haven’t yet stepped onto my favorite tradition soapbox: Mardi Gras.

When I first began taking part in Mardi Gras with my now-husband, I was excited to begin our own traditions, like hosting an open house for most parade evenings and having a “Fish Fry for the Dictator” for Le Krewe d’Etat. Now I’m more excited, and I’ll admit it, honored, to take part in the older traditions of Mardi Gras.

I like dressing up in floor-length gowns (with cute tennis shoes most often so I can stand up and dance all night long); I like seeing my husband in black-tie and in cut-away tails; I like dancing with him and my friends all night long to bands that are most often firmly in the “guilty pleasure” category; I like eating enough calories at 1 in the morning to last me the next week; and I like the presentations, the ritual and the history of the traditions I’ve been lucky enough to take part in.

I acknowledge that New Orleans stands at a peculiar apex right now, one that will definitely have an effect on Carnival; our post-Katrina city is excited to embrace the new – new New Orleanians, new technologies, new companies – while trying to keep a hold of the things we love. But that’s the crux, isn’t it? We don’t all love the same things about this city.

Carnival has the same issue: How do krewes bring in new blood without getting rid of the traditions that, in my opinion, make them what they are?

I’ve had heated discussions with wives of old-line krewe members, who have attended more balls than I ever will, over this very subject. Some of them are embracing the changes, saying that getting rid of “stuffy” old traditions is a good thing, and that new members will make of the old traditions what they will anyway, so why not begin the process now.

I disagree. I think those very traditions – tableaus, formal dress and masked members, for instance – are what separate a “ball” from being just another “gala.”

We’re a town that knows how to throw a party, but we also know how to throw a nonprofit gala and an impromptu tailgate, so why not keep the traditions of the Carnival institutions alive?

Getting rid of old traditions because someone might not like it doesn’t make sense to me. If you don’t like X’s traditions, then start your own Y, for instance. When something is missing in Mardi Gras, someone will find a way to fill the void; history has proven that time and time again – just look at Muses, and now Nyx.

So let’s not say out with the old and in with the new, but rather let’s add new to our old and celebrate all that we are and all that Carnival can be.

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