Mardi Gras 2021 is affectionally being dubbed "Yardi Gras," since decorating your yard and inviting people to come see your "house float" is how people are choosing to celebrate the year without parades!
This year Mardi Gras parades were canceled by many cities in Louisiana: Due to Covid-19, parades drawing large crowds were seen as too risky for health concerns. The parades might not be rolling through the streets but happily many krewes and revelers have found a manner to celebrate the spirit of Mardi Gras in new and endearing ways. 2021 is the year of the "house float" where people took to decorating their own houses and businesses like they were Mardi Gras floats in a parade!
Growing up in South Louisiana, Mardi Gras celebrations have become a normal part of our lives. We've celebrated various Mardi Gras traditions over the years ranging from large New Orleans parades with floats, beads, and marching bands to the country Mardi Gras run chasing chickens and eating boudin in the middle of a field in the Louisiana countryside. The way you celebrate Mardi Gras varies dramatically depending on which area you are in but the key to all Mardi Gras traditions seems to be the same, have fun and enjoy some decadence.
Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday" and represents the last opportunity to indulge before the Lenten season leading up to Easter. More than just religious connections, Mardi Gras in many rural areas became about coming together as a community to celebrate the end of a bleak winter season and get through a rough time of year when the food might be running out.
Many traditions concerning Mardi Gras deal with three main things: food, costumes and chaos.
Let's first discuss the food. Thankfully many of the food traditions of Mardi Gras can easily continue during the pandemic. One of the biggest of those traditions is the King cake, which have evolved dramatically over the years. It is believed that the king cake tradition originated in France and was brought to New Orleans in the late 1800's. The French version is made of an almond-filled puff pastry that has a buttery taste and flaky texture. Some bakeries like Poupart Bakery in Lafayette, La, still serve this more traditional French king cake - we can attest to the deliciousness of the French version!
The New Orleans style cake is ring-shaped with a cinnamon and sugar filling and topped with icing, which is more reminiscent of the Spanish and Italian cakes of carnival season. See image above. Check out the King cake recipes at the end of the blog ;)
Carnival season in Spain, Italy and France are all festivals at the same time of year centered around the religious significance of the epiphany and lent. Instead of calling it Mardi Gras, carnival calls the same day Shrove Tuesday. Eating king cakes in any of these cultures happens between the Epiphany and ends on Mardi Gras. Why these dates? In Roman Catholic tradition, the Epiphany represents the day that Jesus first made himself known to the three wise men. King cake season officially begins on this holy day, which is observed on January 6th and ends on Mardi Gras day. King Cakes when decorated in the royal colors of purple, green, and gold are honoring the Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus on the Epiphany. Symbolically a miniature plastic baby, which symbolizes baby Jesus, is placed inside of each king cake. In the past such things as coins, beans, pecans, or peas were hidden in each king cake to represent the baby. The person who gets the slice that contains the "baby" is known as the king for the day. The tradition has evolved becoming those who get the "baby" are responsible for bringing a king cake to the next event.
While the king cake tradition is able to continue during this time, the country Mardi Gras food traditions will be harder to celebrate this year. In the country Mardi Gras, revelers go from house to house in their rural area begging ingredients from their neighbors to make a gumbo to which all who contribute are welcome. Games like trying to climb a greased pole to capture a chicken at its top or signing songs and rhymes to beg for ingredients have evolved over time and become a part of this Cajun tradition. There is a captain on horseback and a crew of "enforcers" who keeps the "Mardi Gras" revelers from becoming too foolish.
Why are people acting foolish? Because carnival season is seen as the time to get out any frivolity and sins before atoning for them during Lent. Costumes are a huge part of the season and help people to let loose during carnival time. The anonymity of hiding your face behind a mask makes mayhem and chaos much more likely since you don't have the consequences of your actions following you back to your everyday life.
So how do you celebrate Mardi Gras in a year where isolating is important not only for your health but for the health of your community? We never thought that New Orleans would cancel Mardi Gras parades, but in 2021 that's exactly what happened. Understandably, parades and large gatherings of any kind have been canceled across Louisiana. However, Mardi Gras season is prevailing. In New Orleans, though krewes can’t roll, many are adapting to celebrate in new, socially distant ways.
See the link below for how various New Orleans krewes are celebrating the year: https://www.neworleans.com/blog/post/how-to-celebrate-mardi-gras-2021-in-new-orleans/
One amazing way that New Orleans parades are adapting is that a new group, The Krewe of House Floats, emerged and called on members in neighborhoods all across the city of New Orleans to transform the exterior of their houses into floats. It completely turned the idea of a parade on its head creating an opportunity for spectators to follow a map marking the "house floats" and drive by the festively decorated homes. Not only does this help eliminate crowds at parades but many house floats hired artists who normally held jobs decorating floats to decorate their homes instead. This "hire an artist" program has helped many artists who are suffering during the pandemic to hold jobs in what would have been a total loss for them with parades being canceled. Check out The Krewe of the House Floats & The Krewe of Red Bean to see images of more house floats and to find out more information about these wonderful programs and krewes.
So what about the floats? Besides the "house floats" New Orleans stores many of its decorated floats year round. New Orleans City Park brought out 40 of those iconic floats to be a part of a new event called, Floats in the Oaks. During this event, these floats lined an oak boulevard in the park for ticketed viewing. At certain times during the event street performers did their routines among the floats and a local radio station shared non stop Mardi Gras music for those doing the drive through celebration!
Many lavish floats can be viewed at Mardi Gras World, a museum that opened in 1984 to provide a behind the scenes look at how these extravagant vehicles were created and how they have changed over time. Mardi Gras World is a part of Kern studios: a family business with over 80 years of experience building floats with exquisite hands-on craftsmanship. Check out Mardi Gras World in this link: https://www.mardigrasworld.com/
Most parades pick a theme each year to inspire the decoration of their floats or costumes. Each parade can be dramatically different. Two of our favorite parades, Chewbacchus in New Orleans and The Krewe de Canailles in Lafayette are walking parades. Walking parades only have floats that can be moved by people. It removes vehicles from being necessary to pull the monumentally large floats. These parades celebrate taking down the barricades that have to be put up for the safety of the crowd when vehicles are involved. Removing the barricades from the parade route makes for a much more personal experience with the krewes. Interacting with the parade krewe is a huge part of what makes these parades so much fun! Unfortunately these parades won't be walking this year, but you can still see our videos from past years featuring these parades.
Check out our video featuring The Krewe de Canailles
Please don't judge our Chewbacchus video too harshly, it's our first attempt at making a video. We have to laugh, since we hardly took any video and relied mostly on the Ken Burn's effect of using photographs ;) We think it still captures the fun of Chewbacchus, a parade for sci-fi and fantasy nerds.
This year New Orleans City Park is holding Floats in the Oaks, a first-ever drive-thru display of floats from various Mardi Gras krewes. It's an opportunity to see the intricate details of floats from years past while remaining socially distant in your car. Our recommendations for Floats in the Oaks: be prepared for a long wait, bring snacks, tune into the advertised radio station to get your Mardi Gras Jam-On (it's short range so don't expect to pick it up until you're in the park), use the restroom before you head out, and take a vehicle with a sunroof to help get a better view. While we might not have all the costumes and chaos of Mardi Gras seasons past, it is remarkable how people are keeping the celebration alive. Check out how we celebrated Mardi Gras 2021 in the video below.
Many say king cakes are like giant cinnamon rolls: here's a recipe so you can make your own King Cake. Don't forget to devour it in true decadent Mardi Gras style!
Image from Poupart Bakery in Lafayette La.
New Orleans King Cake Recipe
1 cup of warm water (not hot) 2.5 tablespoons dry yeast 1/2 cup sugar 2 eggs at room temperature 1 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup butter room temp 4 1/2 cups all purpose bread flour
Amount will vary for filling- brown sugar, cinnamon, and white sugar
Directions & * some fun
Mix water, yeast, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in bowl.
Let sit 5 minutes * Let the yeast and sugar party!
Then mix in salt, the rest of the sugar, butter, eggs, and flour.
Stir thoroughly for 5 minutes.
*Your arm will get tired, so pretend you are waving your arms in the air to catch beads at a parade!
Cover with towel and let sit in a warm place for 30-40 minutes (until it doubles in size).
Roll out to 1/4” thickness into a rectangular shape. Layer brown sugar, cinnamon, and white sugar on top of the rectangular dough.
*Let the good times roll!
Roll the rectangular dough filled with toppings long-ways until it is a long spiraled coil.
Twist the dough coil and stretch to double the length.
Twist from center to tips and form into an oval shape.
Bake at 350°F for 20-22 minutes. Do not overbake!
Icing Ingredients 1 8 ounce package of cream cheese
1 stick butter at room temperature 1 tablespoon vanilla A little bit of water A lot of powder sugar Mix all ingredients together until consistency of icing except the water
Make glaze by mixing water into icing in a separate bowl.
Glaze king cake right out of the oven!
*Drop it while its hot!
Click the image below for another king cake recipe by Murmurs of Ricotta inspired by the Dong Phuong Bakery. It is so very tasty, soft & fluffy!
photo by Murmurs of Ricotta
Happy Mardi Gras!