Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras: More Than a Party

We’ve just returned from Mardi Gras in Mobile.

The kids had Friday and Monday off, so we took a trip to Mobile for that city's annual Mardi Gras celebration. It was our second time to see it. My wife and I went four years ago. My mother watched the kids for us while we there. This time, however, we took our boys with us as we thought they would enjoy it. There are parades every day and the city bends over backwards to welcome tourists. It’s a friendly atmosphere and a wonderful time.

We have family in Mobile as two of my dad’s siblings make their home there. One of them owns a company that makes floats for the parades. The parades are sponsored by various secret societies that go by names such as the Knights of Revelry, the Mystics of Time, and the Crewe of Columbus. Each parade has umpteen number of floats. Every float carries umpteen people. The people on the floats all wear masks, raucous costumes, and throw items from the floats such as strands of beads, frisbees, footballs, stuffed animals, and moon pies. Crowds gather to watch the floats and catch items. After the parade is over, these same groups hold balls with music and dancing. The crowds watching the parades are dotted with couples dressed in tuxes and long gowns.

My family and I had a blast. My younger son, who wants to be an artist some day, is already begging to spend a summer working for my uncle, crafting floats. My wife is particularly fond of the bead strands and uses them to handcraft special items for our kids’ classes and sports teams. She also uses them to decorate the house. (I try to catch as many as I can.) My older son just soaks it all in.

Mardi Gras is definitely a special time for Mobile. The city has celebrated Mardi Gras since 1703, fifteen years prior to the founding of New Orleans in 1718. And, while Mobile doesn’t get the notoriety of New Orleans, the Mobile Mardi Gras is worth a visit. The reason for it is the people.

I learned a little bit about what goes into Mardi Gras. The beads that people catch cost money directly to whoever threw them. So, each person on a float spends several hundred dollars for the sole purpose of throwing gifts to people they’ve never met. This is in addition to the money that these people spend to join these groups, money that goes into sponsoring these parades. These parades are what bring the tourists and fill the hotels and restaurants. The people in these societies also spend money to get ready for balls that feature great food and music that continues into the wee hours, generating more business for the city.

Mardi Gras is a great time and it may look like just a party, but what it represents is numerous local citizens investing thousands of their own dollars into their community to make it a place that people want to visit and return to again and again.

I hope to do so soon.

No comments: