March is arguably New Orleans’ best month. Lately it has also been the most picked on. Though there is stiff competition from February and April, March is the culturally richest month, especially toward the middle when St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s feasts are two days apart and the weekends that surround them are busy with parades honoring the Sicilians and the Irish. The parades themselves are influenced by the New Orleans style with occasional floats, bead tossing, and, in the case of the Irish, the heaving of cabbages. (The leafy heads are the largest items thrown from local parades though the second place Zulu coconuts are heavier projectiles.)
Somewhere in the evolution of New Orleans’ quirkiness, the Mardi Gras Indians developed an attachment to St. Joseph’s Day. Some tribes make post-Mardi Gras appearances in their full regalia on an adjacent weekend. Three cultural celebrations converge within a week or so of each other.
None of the celebrations is as indigenous as the Indians’ especially with their feathery “suits” and Afro/Caribbean chants. The Sicilians’ food altars dedicated to their saint are not unique to New Orleans, but the tradition is better preserved here than anywhere else including the old country. And at last count, the Irish have at least three parades and there is a neighborhood, the Irish Channel, named after them.
Mid-March is New Orleans’ cultural garden filled with items worth preserving.
Yet, last March was when the coronavirus started to shut the city down. The virus had been making news in scattered places around the world such as Italy, which was being hit hard, but that was an ocean apart. At that stage we didn’t even know what to call what some were referring to as the “Chinese flu.” The word COVID-19 was still in the vernacular’s future.
Then came the weekend of the Irish celebrations when there were parades and gatherings outside of bars where green beer was served. The crowds were large. City Hall was furious.
We all know what happened over the next year. We developed new priorities. Instead of thinking about Dublin or Palermo, my yearnings were for Lulling, one of the outposts for getting shots.
Now we are in another March and the celebration prospects are no better. For the second straight year there will be no ethnic parades or festivities, no rejoicing to native cultures. Carnival 2021 was derailed but at least we got in the 2020 season. Joseph, Patrick and the Indians, however, are facing their second annual cancellation. We are starting to lap ourselves as COVID captives.
Just as we did at Mardi Gras, may the villagers figure out ways to celebrate safely but differently.
May there still be corned beef and cabbage on the dinner table, cannolis on the counter and echoed chants of “Iko, Iko.”
May we all anticipate that next March will be especially culturally rich – for in 2022 Mardi Gras will be in March, too.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.
Listen to Mardi Gras Beyond the Beads, a seasonal podcast covering the ins and outs of the Carnival season: MyNewOrleans.com/beyondthebeads