New Orleans has begun the wild festival called Mardi Gras. To strangers, this bizarre party is merely a hedonistic feast in which we indulge. It is a time when locals and tourists simply act like fools. Well, it is and it isn't. . . .
New Orleans is not the only city to hold carnival. Rio's is reputedly even wilder than ours, but the celebration itself has its roots in ancient ritual and faith. To the observant, Mardi Gras is the celebration that precedes the holy season of Lent. I'm not saying we don't indulge--or overindulge--during Mardi Gras. It is an indulgent time, but it is much more. A whole industry now revolves around Mardi Gras. Tourists come to celebrate. Locals party with family and friends. Some local actually leave town to avoid the madness, but many of us don't hesitate to join in the fun.
We belong to krewes based on our various allegiances or affiliations. Some of the old line families belong to exclusive clubs that exclude others. This practice was very controversial a few years back when various groups accused the krewes of discrimination and racism. Some of these krewes chose to leave the party and no longer parade. They chose to hold their private balls but not share in the public fun. Of course, this did not stop the fun. Other krewes formed in response to the controversy. Harry Connick Jr. started one that includes locals as well as prominent musicians and artists. Still other krewes satirize local politics. What links these people to each other and to New Orleans is the desire to share in the culture and convivial company that marks Mardi Gras.
My guy loves Mardi Gras, and last weekend, we celebrated like the true followers of Bacchus we are. We drank beer at the Avenue Pub. He wore a foolscap while I danced like a teenager. We'll party this weekend, too, and kick back with the Super Bowl, that great display of American athleticism. We'll join the party on Mardi Gras Day, but on Wednesday, I'll be at Mass, receiving my ashes.
After Hurricane Katrina, some criticized our celebration. How could we party after such a terrible time? Weren't we showing disrespect to those lost in the flood waters? Well, aside from the economic benefits Mardi Gras brings to the city, the festival was important to our own spirit. We had to show the nation that we weren't quitters. We weren't going to walk around in sackcloth, reveling in self-pity. We were a devastated city, but we rose from the floodwaters triumphant. The best way to remember the dead is to carry on. We may have drowned in the water of burst levees, but we did not drown in tears.