There seems to be an ever growing trend among New Orleanians to leave the city during Mardi Gras and head to Disney World, the so called Most Magical Place on Earth. I’m told that if you’re in Disney World on Fat Tuesday, it looks like NOLA has taken over with all the purple, green, and gold attire. As for my family, we stay in the Big Easy and make an event out of the entire Carnival season. We don’t understand why people would want to leave just when the city becomes alive with tradition, spectacle and good times! To me, from January 6th until the street sweepers roll down Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras night, New Orleans IS the most magical place on earth.
I’m not one of those people who was born and raised here. I went to school at LSU, and I’ll admit, I didn’t tell my parents the first time I attended Mardi Gras as a freshmen in college. Most people who haven’t experienced Mardi Gras think that it’s dangerous, rowdy, and mostly about women willing to bare it all for beads, and I was convinced my parents would be worried to death. While my first experience with Mardi Gras pretty much held up to this perception, I learned that it’s primarily the tourists who hang out on Bourbon Street creating this atmosphere. When I met my future husband, a NOLA native, I learned that Mardi Gras to a local is all about family, historic rituals, laissez faire attitudes, and oh yeah … parades! My husband loves everything about the holiday. He jumps out of bed on King’s Day, the official start of the season, as if he were 6 years-old on Christmas morning. He dances to the music that he’s waited all year to blast through the speakers while he puts on his iconic Perlis polo. While he was shaking it to Mardi Gras Mambo at 7AM, I asked him what it is about Carnival that he loves so much, and his response was, It’s just a feeling.
I think he’s right.
It’s that feeling you get while wrestling the stranger to the right of you over a glittered shoe from Goodwill and then dancing with them in the street moments later.
It’s that feeling you get trading someone a beer to use their bathroom or to save your spot on the parade route.
It’s that feeling you get passing an oak tree that seems to explode with blossoms of shimmering plastic.
It’s a Tuesday to the rest of the world, but we’re parading down Royal Street dressed in costume, kids in tow, with a brass band leading the way.
It’s hard to put into words what exactly makes it so special. Yes, the crowds get suffocating, and parking for parades can make me hyperventilate. Yes, my child can sometimes get ornery because naptime and bedtime are non-routine for over a week. Yes, my house becomes the new home to bags upon bags of plastic junk … but I’ll take it over Disney World any day! My son has an opportunity to grow up here and have this in his soul. It seems almost unfair for me to trade in the culture he will experience during carnival for expensive and engineered fun. At Disney, I’m paying for a theme park to entertain me, and during carnival, my own city puts on a show for free.
On Mardi Gras night, it’s our tradition to watch the Rex Ball and eat Chinese food. And while we listen to If Ever I Cease to Love on repeat in between bites of Five Happiness General’s chicken, we can’t help but feel sad that it’s all over. The words to the song, strange yet beautiful, are like a love letter to New Orleans, the city that I will never cease to love.
If Ever I Cease To Love,
If Ever I Cease To Love,
May the moon be turned to green cream cheese,
If Ever I Cease To Love.