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Mix of old and new keeps Mardi Gras rolling in New Orleans

Participants in a red beans and rice-themed parade wore costumes they fashioned themselves from beans as part of a nontraditional gathering that is gaining popularity during a holiday rich with centuries-old traditions.

(CN) — Mardi Gras means parades. Days and days and days of parades.

After a hiatus two years ago caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Carnival season celebration is in full swing in New Orleans.

From the start of the season – which begins Jan. 5 with Twelfth Night, the feast of the Epiphany in Catholic tradition that marks the visit of the Magi to the baby Christ, to the final procession on Mardi Gras Day, or Fat Tuesday – each year there will be hundreds of parades, complete with beads and king cake. Not just in the Crescent City, but all throughout the Gulf South.

While paradegoers can still observe centuries-old traditions during Carnival season, new ones are always in the making and it is possible to spend an entire Mardi Gras season participating in parades and events that have evolved only in recent years.

Despite Tuesday’s balmy temperatures up to the 80s, Mardi Gras Day is meant to be a celebration that erupts during the dead of winter in anticipation of the world beginning anew following the thaw of spring. It is the commemoration of creative spark and indulgence before the fasting of Lent begins.

“It’s catharsis,” one parade reveler exclaimed in conversation with another on Monday evening, known as Lundi Gras, during a raucous wrap-up party in the Faubourg Treme neighborhood following a relatively new parade, the Krewe of Red Beans, which began in 2009.

The Krewe of Red Beans, once a small, neighborhood second line-style parade of friends, many of whom were post-Hurricane Katrina transplants to New Orleans, has mushroomed into a large event with hundreds of walking participants in three separate groups and thousands of onlookers who all converge at the end with music and dancing in the streets.

Following the tradition of Black Masking Indians whose members make their costumes each year from dazzling beads, Red Beans-goers spend hours, if not months, crafting creative and often witty costumes out of beans.

Lundi Gras – the day preceding Mardi Gras Day, known as the Monday of Mondays – was no exception: costumes flared with beans spelled phrases such as “human bean” and “has-bean,” and a beheading booth strapped to a woman’s back had “guillobean” spelled out on a plaque above.

New Orleans attendees of a red beans and rice-themed parade in New Orleans on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in which participants sometimes spell out puns in beans. The man's shirt on the right is a play on New Orleans DJ Brice Nice and reads "DJ Rice Nice." (Sabrina Canfield/Courthouse News)

The Red Beans website offers a code of ethics for anyone wishing to participate in their parade.

“No costume should cause harm and  we seek to create a welcoming environment,” the site states. “Our members are silly and creative enough to celebrate the Monday of Mondays without appropriating, offending, causing pain through ignorance and leaving our community at odds while at the same time being an advocate for Mardi Gras equity, championing those whom inspire us and showing respect to the traditions which influence us.”

Lundi Gras is arguably as important as Fat Tuesday itself, with the merriment of the coming catharsis climbing to its peak. Parades, musical events and festivities in the street occur across the Big Easy, both planned and spontaneously.

But if Lundi Gras is as important as Mardi Gras Day itself, the same could be said for each day leading up to the crescendo Tuesday celebration.

By the Thursday evening before Mardi Gras, school schedules have changed to accommodate the growing crowds and parade schedules.

“Are the crowds back?” laughed Julian Landry, who was working behind the counter of a corner store along Magazine Street on this year’s cold and rainy Thursday night during the famed Muses parade, in which attendees hope to catch a coveted shoe.

“Does that not look like a crowd to you?” he joked. “Look, the crowds are back.”

In 2018, contractors for the city removed an astonishing 46 tons of beads from city catch basins. Beads are not just clogging the sewer – they are plastic, made and shipped from China, and often contain dangerous levels of toxic elements, such as heavy metals.

The Krewe of Iris, the first all-women parade which celebrated a century of parading in 2017, announced two years ago it would introduce more environmentally sustainable throws and unveiled its line of signature throws, including bamboo toothbrushes and bamboo packaged soap, colored pencils, crayons and, this year, fresh irises. The krewe also pledged to step up efforts to recycle throws.  

A Krewe of Iris float rolls by as paradegoers catch beads in New Orleans on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. (Sabrina Canfield/Courthouse News)

Still, many plastic beads were thrown during Saturday’s Krewe of Iris parade. Immediately following each parade, cleanup crews started in on sweeping and mopping the streets. Large trucks raked all remaining throws into a mountain on the ground, along with all the other debris left over from the parade and slated for the landfill.

Unfortunately, Mardi Gras in New Orleans also brings to mind fatalities. This year was no exception.

Five people, including one man who died, and a 4-year-old girl were shot Sunday evening during the Krewe of Bacchus parade by a man, now in custody, who police say was looking to settle an outstanding dispute. The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported that Sunday's shooting was the 13th attack on a parade route since 2011

City officials expressed regret over the shooting during a press conference Monday.

NOPD Superintendent Michelle Woodfork called the attack "an isolated incident that occurred near the parade route because someone decided the resolution was going to be ended by gunfire.”

Woodfork also said 112 guns were confiscated during the Mardi Gras season in and around Carnival-related events.

“We’re out there every day making sure this doesn’t occur,” she said. “If you see anyone that may be carrying a weapon, let a police officer know. Prior to this incident, we were having a beautiful Mardi Gras season… We’re serious about making this event truly safe.”

As of Tuesday morning, no other incidences of violence had been reported.

A row of beads to be thrown is visible on the first level of this float during a Krewe of Iris Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. (Sabrina Canfield/Courthouse News)
Categories:Entertainment, Regional

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