When you live in New Orleans or have friends who visit you here, chances are that someone’s important day (be it a birthday, anniversary or something more intangible – like the anniversary of a loved one’s death or the day one was hired for a dream job) will coincide with a trip to one of our city’s numerous festivals.
The question is: How do you make that person feel special when they’re already part of something amazing?
For birthdays, many locals pin money to their shirts to let the world know it’s their birthday and everyone should say “Happy birthday!” to them and perhaps give them a dollar or two for the celebration.
One of my dearest friends’ birthday is during the second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. (It is what I imagine having a birthday during Christmas celebrations in any other part of the country is like.) Every year she stays with my husband and me, and every year we’re so exhausted by the time it comes around that we typically make it special by inviting a large group of people over after the last day of Fest for some of her favorite dishes, home cooked of course, and her favorite cake.
We did just that, with my husband’s home-cooked pulled pork and coleslaw; a chocolate-chocolate cake from O’Delice; and dishes from friends – oh, and presents!
But this year was her big 3-0, and her parents were in town to show us how it’s done. We all met at Liuzza’s By the Track at 10 a.m., and her mother began producing celebratory items from her bag like she was Mary Poppins. First came plastic champagne flutes and multiple bottles of my friend’s favorite champagne. Then came paper napkins in her favorite pattern: paisley. Then the “birthday” stickers for each of us with glitter and arrows drawn on them so that we could all point out whose birthday it was (as long as we stood in the right spot). Those were followed by presents, hot beignets with birthday candles, a blinking button to hold her birthday pin-on money and the pieces de resistance: Afro wigs to match my friend’s most striking feature. We definitely made for a photo op.
Throughout the day, almost every single person we came across, from the ladies and gentlemen at the gate to those running traffic interference at the crossroads to the people working the food booths to those slogging through the mud alongside us, they all had a smile and a “Happy birthday!” – and some even had a dollar.
This just goes to show that though New Orleans has more festivals, balls and nonprofit events than there are days in the year, throwing a party within a party can be fun, easy and most of all memorable.