To Jefferson Parish: Yes, Have Parades In May…Just Don’t Call It Mardi Gras, Please
Orleans Parish was named after a French Aristocrat; Jefferson Parish was named after an American Statesman. You can usually count on statesmen to be a little hungrier than aristocrats and to try a little harder to make things happen.
Before the Jefferson Parish council this week is a proposal to push back what we know as a Mardi Gras parade schedule to the week of Memorial Day, assuming that by then “COVID” will be a name from the past.
Mardi Gras, as practiced in New Orleans, has tradition as a guiding hand. Tradition gives our celebration some stability and meaning beyond just catching beads. So, we traditionalist would normally be expected to be appalled by the idea of having Mardi Gras parades reschedule to the spring. Would that be proper? The answer is a clear: yes and no.
First, we need to distinguish between “Mardi Gras”and “Carnival.” The former, meaning Fat Tuesday, is derived from the Christian celebration of Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten Season. Taking “Fat” in this context to mean just about any sort of partying, Mardi Gras is the last day for fun before what is supposed to be a solemn period. (In modern times, the solemnity leading up to Good Friday has decreased significantly as worshipers are more adept at feasting than fasting.) “Carnival,” a word that is believed to draw its roots form the Latin phrase “carnelevarium,” meaning roughly to take away meat, is the same sort of phrase as “Mardi Gras,” suggesting a last bash before being petulant. Only now, it more commonly is applied to a type of event such as fairs or a festival. Thus, there are all types of carnivals throughout the year and in many places, some provoking images that are no more spiritual than cotton candy of a Ferris wheel. Sometimes carnivals are linked to Mardi Gras; sometimes they are not. (I refer to the day before Ash Wednesday as” Mardi Gras,” but the season that precedes it as “Carnival.”)
On some Caribbean islands there are Mardi Gras style celebrations, but they are referred to as “Carnivals” because they are held at different times and not exclusively Mardi Gras season. The reason is practical. Mardi Gras is most often in February, but the Caribbean doesn’t need extra tourists during that month because that’s when the “snowbirds” from North America show up to get away from cold weather. Caribbean tourism does slump however in the months that are warm way up north, so attractions are needed to draw visitors from the heat to more heat. Thus in 2021 the island of St. Martin will have its Carnival April 30; Cayman, the Bahamas and Antigua (COVID permitting) will be in May. Jefferson Parish will not be alone in beating the drums.
So, what to call the event in Jefferson? The simple answer would be “Jefferson Carnival” or, to be wild, “Carnival Jefferson.” Clearview, which will likely be ground zero, is roughly halfway between the lake and the river north and south, and New Orleans and St. Charles Parish are east and west, so how about Crossroads Carnival? Or, if they must, how about Family Fest and use that as a reason to get rid of the awkward phrase “Family Gras” (translation “Fat Family”) once and for all.
Doing this right could be the beginning of two annual festivals among neighboring parishes at different times of the year: one a Mardi Gras, the other a Carnival. Each could have its own character.
We have learned this year that the opportunity to celebrate should never be taken for granted,
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.