Carnival season 2020 was only in its first hours and already its curative powers were being proven. The season begins on Twelfth Night, January 6, but many New Orleanians were in a funk as the day began. On the day before, the Saints were bounced out of the playoffs by the Minnesota Vikings, about whom memories still lingered of a near impossible catch that ended a playoff run two seasons earlier. This was a double funk which might not have been endurable were it not for the public psyche suddenly shifting from black and gold to purple, green and gold.
There are many places in the world that stage some sort of Mardi Gras celebration; quite often it is a parade, or two, staged as a civic gesture to bring visitors to town. There might be street parties and extra beer flowing from nearby barrooms, but those activities, while providing some escape, are mere façades. There is nothing substantial behind them. New Orleans is one of the few cities in the world where Carnival is entwined with the culture. Anyone who grew up in this experienced Carnival as part of their life. Their jewelry boxes and dresser drawers may have the sparkle of ducals or pins from some distant night when they, if only for the evening, were part of royalty. Their memories might be from marching in bands, riding on floats, losing their identity behind a mask and maybe even falling in love, if only for a fleeting moment.
There have been other years when Carnival rescued our spirits from events far more severe than even the Saints’ loss. No Carnival season in history was as critical as that of 2006, in which we had to prove to ourselves and to the world that the city was still alive and would recover from the wrath of Katrina which had torn through levees only a few months earlier. The world watched videos of what seemed to be the last days of New Orleans. Although many floats were left stained with water lines, Carnival provided news of not only a rebirth but that the locals were still capable of dancing in the streets.
In 1872, Carnival was enhanced by creating a King of Carnival, named Rex, to show the nation that symbolic royalty now ruled where Reconstruction had recently reigned.
We would be a poorer, far less confident city were it not for Carnival culture to reminds us that the dead of life’s winters can be followed by spring’s rejuvenation. We concede however from our experience of 2010 that the breeze is even sweeter when the Saints go all the way.