This past Tuesday, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean New Mexicans can’t party too. Student Activities hosted a Mardi Gras celebration in the Student Union Building as a way “to get students into the SUB and excited about things,” said event coordinator, Emily Louth.
Directly translating in English to "Fat Tuesday," Mardi Gras is an old Catholic tradition made famous by the rowdy parties in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also called Carnival, Mardi Gras is a way to let loose before Lent, the practice of giving up a habit in order to relate to Jesus’ struggles leading up Easter Sunday.
“You know, it started in Mobile, Alabama. It’s not the famous one; New Orleans took it over,” said Linda Piper, who attended the event. Today, Mobile has a rich Mardi Gras tradition of its own, as well as Galveston, Texas and some places in southern Mississippi.
The day was complete with New Orleans-style food, including jambalaya, a king cake and virgin hurricanes. Attendees had the chance to decorate their own masks, a trademark of parade season, and hear a live jazz band. The band consisted of guitar, drums, saxophone and upright bass.
“Jazz encompasses just about everything we listen to, people don’t realize that,” said bassist, Rodney Bowe. “A good jazz tune will have you bouncing and being happy, or it could have you being sad and sentimental.”
The importance of music to New Orleans and Mardi Gras cannot be understated. Most parades involve local brass bands and high school marching bands that brave often in-climate weather to provide entertainment for miles-long parade routes. The music of Dr. John and the Hot 8 Brass Band gives a glimpse into the heart of New Orleans.
Each parade is made up of one or more crews that ride in huge, paper mâché floats and throw out beads, stuffed animals, candy and other goodies. Some crews have specialty throws, such as the individually decorated coconuts handed down by members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club – the most cherished throw of all.
Mardi Gras isn’t limited to huge floats and hundreds of crew members. Parades take many forms throughout the New Orleans area, and can be made of several groups that walk the route or even tractors and four-wheelers in more rural areas.
Parades typically have satirical themes that pop up in float decorations and costumes. Crew members poke fun at politicians and celebrities, but some crews are satirical by nature.
The party begins with the Feast of the Epiphany and ends Ash Wednesday, although Student Activities plans to keep the party rolling until Friday, when they will host a masquerade ball.
The University of New Mexico has created its own Mardi Gras traditions right here in Albuquerque.
“It’s tradition for the SUB to have a Mardi Gras celebration; it’s been going on for about 10 years,” said event coordinator, Anders Flagstad.
“New Orleans is in my blood,” said Linda, who hails from Houston but has family in the Big Easy. No matter how you experience Mardi Gras, the spirit of New Orleans can captivate even the most loyal Burqueño.
Katie Monette is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @KatieMonette9.