By Big Fun on the Bayou
Mardi Gras, "the greatest free show on Earth," is here again, with parades starting this weekend in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.
Newcomers and locals alike will find themselves in the midst of the biggest celebration of Carnival outside greater New Orleans.
Some 30 parades are scheduled to roll through Fat Tuesday, Feb. 28, in Houma, Thibodaux and bayou communities throughout the two parishes. Anyone who can find space on a curb or sidewalk is welcome to join the party.
The annual celebration originated in the calendar of the predominate Roman Catholic Church. It was the last opportunity among the faithful to dance, party,feast and drink, with little restraint, before the restrictions of the 40-day Lenten season that starts on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter.
The local Carnival tradition has roots well into the 1800s, when masked balls were common. Mardi Gras parades are mentioned in Houma and Thibodaux newspapers before the 1920s. In 1946, a group of Houma men planned the first parade of the Krewe of Houmas, which rolled on Fat Tuesday 1947. In the years since, a succession of imitating krewes joined the celebration.
That 1947 parade featured a convertible bearing farmer Filhuacon "Tecon" Duplantis, whose irregular homemade parades, beginning in the 1920s, were credited with keeping the tradition alive. Tecon's unofficial assemblies of decorated cane wagons and farm animals are not well documented, but they reportedly grew from a few people on foot to some 200 floats drawn by oxen and horses.
When the Krewe of Houmas first paraded, floats were drawn by mules used at area sugar plantations. As tractors replaced mules in the fields, they also took the job of pulling floats, only to be replaced by trucks as sugar farming declined.
In 1955, the Krewe of Chronos of Thibodaux, launched its first modern parade, with a nod to the very first Thibodaux parade, reportedly in 1914, though that date has not been firmly established.
In both parishes, elaborate floats bearing krewe members, Carnival royalty and laden with tons of beads and trinkets roll past miles of crowds eager to catch souvenirs.
One local Mardi Gras souvenir, rarely seen in connection with parades, is edible. The king cake, a ring of yeasty cinnamon bread iced in purple, gold and green Mardi Gras colors, is available in bakeries and groceries throughout the area. Some ship the desert, complete with a plastic baby. Traditionally, the baby was hidden inside the cake, and whoever got that slice bought the next king cake.