Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

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A friend posted this on social media. I don’t know who the original maker of the image is or I would credit/thank them for it.

This is the one time of year I regularly miss south Louisiana, but maybe not for the reasons people who’ve never lived there would understand. Mardi Gras has this somewhat deserved reputation for being a day dedicated to hedonism and debauchery, no matter the attempts by many monied interests to make it “family-friendly.” But the thing I remember from growing up down there, even though I didn’t “celebrate” it for most of my life (as I was a Jehovah’s Witness until I was in my mid-twenties), was the way the holiday helped me come down from that frenzy of the end of the previous year. I’m sure that sounds weird if all you know of Mardi Gras is the spectacle of the day itself or even of the weekend running up to it, because it looks like nothing but frenzy.

But really, Mardi Gras is a slow build. For example, this year, Mardi Gras day is going to hit on February 25, but the first parades are on January 6. There’s kind of a pause until February when the season gets going—not even south Louisiana folks can keep it up nonstop from Halloween until Lent—but even if you count from the time that the Krewe of Chewbacchus rolls on February 1, that’s 3 1/2 weeks of celebration, first mostly on the weekends, but then ramping up until there are parades every night for the last week. And the whole time, the music is everywhere. Professor Longhair, The Meters, Irma Thomas, Galactic, Dr. John, Fats Domino, The Rebirth Brass Band, Rockin’ Dopsie, The Nevilles, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Al Johnson, The Hawkettes—most years I start listening to it in early-December as counter programming to the Christmas music everywhere.

I don’t have any proof of this, but I suspect that the slow-burn aspect of the holiday is one reason why it hasn’t expanded much beyond the deep south. (The weather is another, obviously—here in Iowa, where I’ve lived for 8 1/2 years, I do my best to not be outdoors more than necessary in January or February.) When I’ve seen places try to bring in a Mardi Gras, they only do Fat Tuesday, bring in some beads, beer, and some under-seasoned food. (I’ve had boiled crawfish here that would get you stabbed in Ponchatoula.) But the problem is that by the time Fat Tuesday gets here, we’re maybe a couple of months out from New Years, we’ve sweated through Valentines Day, and there’s nothing ahead but doing your income taxes until the weather hopefully breaks. No one’s ready for another explosion.

Unless you’ve been training for it for weeks. That’s what the season lets you do. Listen to some music, hit an early parade or two, remember that some red beans and rice won’t fix the world but you’ll probably feel better once you’ve had some. You go do your job(s), love your family and friends, remember that your neighbors are people and not just words on a screen waiting to piss you off with their opinions on stuff, maybe catch some beads and drink a beer or two.

And you don’t try to do it all, not even if you’re in your early twenties and still in school. You pace yourself. In a way, the season is a reminder that the year is long and there’s always something else coming up, so enjoy this moment now, and if that means getting a little loose, so be it, and if that means staying home, so be that too. And then give a little something up for Lent, no matter if you’re Catholic or not. Let it be a detox of sorts. Besides, the way the Christmas season keeps expanding, it’ll be time to shop for presents once Lent is over anyway.

January 1, 2020 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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