Mardi Gras in southern Louisiana

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As a kid, I liked Mardi Gras because it meant three things: no school, king cake and a lot of parades.

Parades bring back a lot of memories for me. I remember sitting on my uncle’s shoulders at the Krewe of Eve parade that he and my aunt would bring me to, along with my brothers and cousins. Before that, I walked up and down the field of Parkview Oaks Elementary for our school’s annual First Grade Parade.

To a little kid from Louisiana, Mardi Gras is almost as captivating as Christmas. There’s nonstop music, food and celebration. It’s as if all of Louisiana turns into one big party for a few days.

That’s why Mardi Gras has always been one of my favorite holidays. It was special to my home and my family, even more so because of my Cajun heritage.

I remember being a little girl and my grandmother speaking to me in French. She wasn’t fluent, but there were little words and phrases that I picked up on over the years. That was why I took French in middle school. I was required to take a foreign language, and I figured by learning French, I’d get even closer to my grandmother.

It wasn’t just my grandmother – her siblings also spoke “Louisiana French,” a dialect most common to southern Louisiana. Other than my family, there was only one other time I would hear people speaking like this, and that was during Mardi Gras.

 

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My French class would celebrate with a Cajun Mardi Gras every year. Traditionally, a Cajun Mardi Gras involves participants parading through the streets of a community and begging for ingredients to make a communal pot of gumbo to be shared by all. There was also music, dancing and homemade costumes.

My class did not run through the streets, but we did make our own costumes and learn how to dance to zydeco music. It was weird hearing that kind of music in a classroom when I’d only ever heard it before at my family reunions.

That French class was the first time I had heard about Cajun Mardi Gras, as opposed to the carnival-style celebrations that take over New Orleans every year.

Although my family does not celebrate Mardi Gras the Cajun way, I have always been proud to associate that holiday with my heritage. It brings entire communities together for a celebration in a way that other holidays can’t.

Everyone celebrates Mardi Gras in their own way. Some families hit the streets of New Orleans to be swept away by jazz music. Some families camp out all day to get a good spot at a parade. My family will swear that Calandro’s makes the best grocery store king cake – and then proceed to buy as many as we can before they’re gone again.

While Mardi Gras celebrations have begun to spread outside of Louisiana, I still like to think of this holiday as my own. It’s a link to my childhood and my family.

I know that for some people, Mardi Gras is all about celebrating before the start of Lent, which is meant to be a period of reflection and sacrifice. Growing up, my mom would always ask us to pick something to give up. I know it meant a lot to her, so I would try to abstain from whatever I chose to give up that year, even if it didn’t last.

There’s something in Mardi Gras for everyone. We may celebrate it for different reasons, but we still celebrate it together, and that’s what makes it so important to me.

 

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