Picture it: A bleak and freezing mid-February Tuesday in Columbia, Missouri, the sky gray, the trees bare and brown, black piles of plowed snow lining the busy street. I pull on gloves and a hat and boots and double socks and a coat and a scarf and grit my teeth, preparing to fight against the wind as I walk, snow stinging my cheeks, my ears burning and aching with cold, to go take a midterm. 

The cold feels personal to me on a good day; I will take 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity every single time. But this wasn’t a good day. This was my first-ever Mardi Gras away from home, and as I took that midterm, I knew my friends were in tank tops and costumes, laughing and drinking and waving their arms in a world full of color and joy and noise and warmth. (Thankfully, this was before social media, so I just sensed it; I didn’t actually have to see pictures of it.) The dining hall that night was decorated with purple, green and gold, and they served something that purported to be jambalaya, along with Hoppin’ John, which I’d never even heard of. I was sad and lonely and so very homesick – and I didn’t think I even liked Mardi Gras that much. 

I swore I’d never take Mardi Gras for granted again; I would never again complain about it. 

And that lasted … maybe two years once I moved back home. 

I still go to parades, and I still have fun, but I also grump about the traffic and the crowds and the inconvenience of it all. 

Last year, I took my teenage daughter to Krewe du Vieux for the first time, which was both hilarious and awkward, and we did a couple of Sunday parade marathons, but by the time Ash Wednesday rolled around, I was burnt out and well past ready to be done with it all and get back to normal life.

I had no idea that life was about to be anything but normal for a very long time. 

No French Quarter Fest. No Jazz Fest. And now, no parades. I almost said “no Mardi Gras.” (And then I automatically revised that to “no Carnival.” The five years I spent working for Errol Laborde made its mark on me, and so I know better than to call the entire season “Mardi Gras.”) But then I realized that it isn’t really a case of no Carnival, just no parades. 

Just as Santa Claus isn’t a real person but lives in all of us (or that’s what I told my kids, anyway …), Carnival season is more than just parades. Carnival season is Zooms with friends where everyone eats a slice of King Cake together. Carnival season is the incredible creativity of the Krewe of House Floats. It’s the Bacchus app and the “Mardi Gras for All Y’all” virtual celebration. 

Even on that horribly depressing frigid day back in 1999, I had a bit of the Carnival season within me because I was actively missing it as opposed to just being oblivious. 

I have no doubt that Carnival 2022 will be a glorious celebration … and I promise to never complain about it ever, ever again.

(At least until Carnival 2023.)