Editorial: Celebrate Mardi Gras the right way

Gage Counts, [email protected]

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Perhaps the most exciting time for college students in the New Orleans area is Mardi Gras, the couple of weeks where binge drinking and overeating king cake is socially acceptable – and sometimes encouraged.

There are many Carnival traditions that some students are fond of: setting up a hangout spot on parade routes and going to Tequila Sunrise at The Boot, for example. While these aren’t traditions that should be forgotten or abandoned, it’s important to remember that Mardi Gras isn’t being celebrated by college students alone, and that people celebrate it for reasons unrelated to alcohol and vaguely-restricted partying.

55 percent of students attending Loyola are from out-of-state. Most students have not been raised with Mardi Gras as it’s celebrated in New Orleans. That makes them outsiders, not used to local customs or traditions. It can be a rewarding experience, to temporarily become part of a foreign culture and learn its customs and traditions; it also comes with certain responsibilities. Namely, respect the people who live here permanently, and learn their traditions.

It’s likely that if you go to a parade route, you will see children sitting on ladders being guarded by parents with watchful eyes, flanked by grandparents sitting in lawn chairs underneath a shaded tent. These are the people who make New Orleans their permanent home. New Orleans doesn’t own Mardi Gras parades, but for those of us who aren’t native to the culture, we are their guests. Good guests don’t disrespect their hosts by competing with children for throws, antagonizing people over specific spots on the medium or pushing them out of the way to get closer to the parade.

Mardi Gras parades aren’t for the faint of heart. You often have to be assertive. However, being assertive does not mean being rude or disrespectful.

Some of the worst Mardi Gras experiences can be caused by angry locals. Tired of drunken, obnoxious college students and tourists, they can get irritated and take that frustration out on people who don’t deserve it. This isn’t excusable, and it isn’t always preventable. But being a disrespectful guest only inflames that frustration and makes it worse for the next unsuspecting person.

In addition to handling ourselves well, we should also learn about the rich tradition of Mardi Gras. This goes beyond reading the label on a king cake box or figuring out how to get a coconut from the Krewe of Zulu. Some of the best parts of Mardi Gras have nothing to do with the treasures and coveted items.

One interesting tradition involves the Mardi Gras Indians who don’t publish the locations or times of their parades. Mardi Gras Indians are composed of largely African Americans in the city who have historically been excluded from the royalty of the krewes. Naming themselves after the Native Americans who helped slaves escape, these parades are a way of paying their respects. Understanding this tradition adds to the experience of Mardi Gras, especially if you’re lucky enough to see the Mardi Gras Indians march.

Mardi Gras is a time where it’s okay to let loose and have fun – safely, legally and respectfully. If the extent of that is to camp at a spot on the parade route, that’s fine. Knowing the history and symbolism of the different Mardi Gras traditions and respecting other people you come across, though, can only enrich the Mardi Gras experience for everyone.

The editorial represents the majority opinions of The Maroon’s editorial board and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Loyola University. 

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