There should be a permanent sign over every door in the mayor’s office that reads: MARDI GRAS CANNOT BE CANCELLED —EVER. This is more than civic boosterism but a statement of historic fact. Mardi Gras, like Christmas and Easter, are dates on the Gregorian calendar enshrined since 1582. To do away with Mardi Gras would require abolishing Gregory XIII’s globally implemented work and no mayor’s office has the power to do that.

Several times, however, we have been warned by mayors that because of some civic crisis, the upcoming Mardi Gras might be cancelled. Citizens were told that during the 1979 police strike; in the 1990s in the wake of a controversial Civil Rights ordinance; in 2006 after Katrina; when COVID-19 hit in 2020 and, most recently, two weeks ago because of a shortage of police. In all cases, however, there was still a Mardi Gras. What mayors mean to say, and this they DO have control over, is that there might not be parades. But there is an important difference. The origin of the the term “Mardi Gras” has nothing to do with bands and floats. The French translation was “Fat Tuesday” because of the day being the last moment of feasting before the solemn fasting days of Lent – a farewell to flesh. Spiritually, the term “Mardi Gras” is about the coming of Easter and not the coming of Endymion.

This is more than nerdy semantics. The distinction could have serious economic implications, especially here in our town. The city’s reputation as a fun and funky place to visit filled with music and joy is built largely around its association with Carnival. It is a reputation that spreads year-round. Conversely, the term “Mardi Gras”, especially when used in a context that suggests its demise, draws global attention. What is said about the season reflects on the image of the city. In those dreadful months after Hurricane Katrina, the world saw images of New Orleans drowning, gasping for its last breath; however, the sudden spectacle of the city having parades, albeit some of them shortened, told the world that the city was still alive and damn well might recover. Visions of celebration helped save New Orleans.

We do not mean to overlook the serious governance issue: There is a nationwide police shortage and the demands of our Carnival place an extra strain on the force. Last year some of the parade routes had to be shortened and I’m getting the feeling that that might happen again this coming Carnival. Also, in the future the city council might have to be more judicious in allowing new parades. There probably are too many already. One good development that came from 2020 when parades were not allowed in New Orleans was a citywide effort to develop porches. I hope that continues and grows despite a police shortage. It is a way of spreading the celebration to city blocks even beyond what parades can do. We may see the origin of block krewes with porches as floats and dancing in the streets.

Our message to the world, and to our citizens, should be that Mardi Gras continues but it is more than just parades. And make plans for Mardi Gras 2024. That will be happening, too.

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Have something to add to this story, or want to send a comment to Errol? Email him at errol@myneworleans.com. Note: All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this article. Please include your name and location.

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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.

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