There cannot be much quibble about the excellent quality of life features we enjoy along the Gulf Coast.
We can start with the weather that at this time of year really moves to our advantage. Shoveling sunshine off the sidewalk and driveway is never an issue.
Mention music and you are hard-pressed to find a more interesting and diverse array of native music (here we are the birthplace of jazz, as well as an important contributor to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll), but then symphonic and operatic music are also important to our cultures. And surely we don’t have to tell you about the cuisine. Fresh, prepared in varied ways, and each awakening your taste buds to exciting dining. From the fins to the hooves to the crops, we have found ways to make important statements about what’s the real deal.
Yet there is something here even over and above those amazing aspects of living. It’s our people. Our neighbors, those cheerful and generous souls who live a Gulf Coast life every day, anxious to enjoy and anxious to share.
I am reminded of that joy and zest every year at this time. For it is now that the entire Gulf Coast stages some of the greatest parties on the planet. And it is now that an almost overlooked aspect of our being comes to my attention.
Carnival is alive and well, all up and down the Gulf Coast. Formal balls, parades, bands, throws, King Cakes, street parties and so much more come together to celebrate not just a time of year but our heritage. These are not empty let’s-have-a-party-for-the-sake-of-having-a-party affairs (okay, so there is some of that), but deep down, these annual commemorations are what we have been doing since the very founding of our area by the Europeans, more than 300 years ago. And here’s that important piece of information that is so often overlooked:
It’s all free for everyone.
Most of the Carnival celebrations and parades in our communities do not allow any commercial advertising. None. You cannot paste the name of a big corporation on the side of a float. You cannot have a banner in the parade noting this product or that one. Your parade costume cannot have any sort of commercial advertising.
The entire cost of the celebration is borne by the people in the organizations. They do this for us, and for them, of course. But when is the last time you watched any sort of event and there was no corporate advertising present? Where else in the country are parades staged with no effort to inflict the name of a product or service on the affair?
Let me answer that question: it happens no place else. Nothing on the scale of Carnival is staged anywhere without corporate sponsorship.
See what I mean about our citizens and their generosity?
So what’s your role in all of this frivolity? You are expected to show up and have fun, and you are expected to do so every year. For this, you get to see all of your friends while listening to stirring music, receiving “throws” from float riders, eating special foods and soaking up sunshine and laughter.
The Big Day, Mardi Gras, is Tuesday, Feb. 12, this year, so you have between now and then to get involved. Go for it!
In Pensacola, there are parades on land and water, along with the pirate-themed gatherings that are based on history and lore. The Krewe du Ya Yas stages a ball, and several organizations, led by Priscus, parade. Many of the balls are black tie so the usual beach wear is not appropriate.
Mobilians are quick to note that theirs is the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the U.S., and it remains a traditional, take-to-the-streets, kick-up-your-heels affair. Moon Pies, that quintessential Southern snack, are heaved in great quantity from floats and cars.
If you attend the Joe Cain parade, and you should, don’t forget your cowbell.
Mississippi Gulf Coast
Carnival on the Coast boasts 23 parades, several balls and other “break-out” street festivals. Located between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., the Coast is happy to take up the challenge and stage a celebration worthy of those two centers to the east and the west.
Even after Hurricane Katrina, the thought of not having Carnival was never really considered. While the celebrations were scaled down, their joy was not diminished in the least.
What can one say? Without a doubt, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the most talked about celebration in the U.S. and one of the grandest Carnivals anywhere in the world. No matter how many parties you attended in college or to this point in your life, this is the greatest party ever. It earns that accolade every year.
This year is especially significant since right in the middle of the second biggest weekend of Carnival, New Orleans is hosting Super Bowl XLVII. None of it is to be missed.
Often overlooked, but never over-regarded, the Cajun celebration of Mardi Gras is big, festive and done on a grand scale. There is the traditional staging of parades, balls, other events, like concerts, which take up every section of this joie de vivre community.
And then there is the Courir de Mardi Gras throughout the countryside when men on horseback ride from farmhouse to farmhouse gathering the ingredients for a community gumbo. Those ingredients include rice, vegetables and chickens. Later the entire area gathers to visit, have a couple of brews and enjoy the feast. Do these people know how to live or what?
To keep things straight, know that Carnival is the season and Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the day. Also, you can always tell a resident of the Gulf Coast. We think the colors purple, green and gold look good together. And we will eat foods that have those colors.
Happy Carnival, everyone!!