Throw Me Something

I’m really not a Christmas person. I’m not a total Scrooge or anything – I like baking and family bonding; I’m not a monster – but I’m also not the type to go crazy decorating, and I hate shopping, and I suck at wrapping presents.

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So I’m always happy on Epiphany, Jan. 6, when we (like all right-thinking people) finally take down our Christmas things and start eating King Cake. I never feel more like a New Orleanian than when I ceremoniously replace my Christmas wreath with my Carnival King Cake door hanger.

In years past, though, I wasn’t necessarily all that much of a Carnival person either. I have one kid who is a super-fan and one kid who hates it all, and I’m somewhere in the middle: I love the laid-back first-weekend parades and I usually make it out on Fat Tuesday to drink a couple beers and eat some Popeyes with friends, but I’m 1,000 percent not going to camp out to hold a spot for Endymion or any other parade.

This year, though? I’m all in! (Although still not ever camping out on the neutral ground.)

I had a pretty typical Carnival season in February 2020. My older kid (the super-fan) and I hit all the first Saturday and Sunday parades, went to a couple of Endymion parties and a Thoth brunch, and caught Rex and the truck parades just a few blocks from our house.

And then? 

Well, we all know what happened next – and kept happening, canceling Mardi Gras 2021 entirely and taking a devastating toll on our amazing city in every imaginable way.

House floats were cool and all – it’s a beautiful celebration of creativity that I hope continues for years to come – but I didn’t know how much I needed Carnival season until we couldn’t have it.

So last year, Mardi Gras 2022, was absolute catharsis and so very necessary.

That might not make sense to anyone else from anywhere else – we lost so many precious lives to COVID, and I lost my beloved mother in May 2021 (not to COVID), so how on earth could we celebrate in the midst of so much sadness and loss?

But this is New Orleans. This is the city of jazz funerals and dark humor. We do love and life and loss like nowhere else, and Carnival 2022 changed my mind about the holiday. People in Nebraska might think Mardi Gras is nothing more than getting drunk on Bourbon Street, showing your boobs for beads, and puking in the gutter, based solely on a trip they took in college or what they see on the Today Show. But this annual celebration is life-affirming and -sustaining for the actual citizens of the city.

The first post-Katrina Mardi Gras was similar – almost like laughing in the face of death and tragedy, trying to prove that it’s going to take more than this to break us. Screaming to the wider world, “We’re still here, dammit, and you can’t take our joy!”

Yes, there was joy this past Carnival, even though I cried when I heard the first marching band play and sobbed when I stood at the spot where I always watched parades with my mom … without her. But as they say in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” Because I also laughed. I threw my hands in the air and screamed with glee. I danced with my daughters.

And when all was said and done, I knew I was nothing if not still alive, in spite of it all.

So this Epiphany, when I take down my Christmas wreath and hang up my wooden glitter King Cake, I will be celebrating more than just the start of a new season of wonder.

I will be celebrating resilience and family and love and loss and life and death and joy and sorrow and change and tradition.

I will be celebrating New Orleans.

For all of our flaws, we are still here.

And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.