Many people see Mardi Gras as a time to let loose and party – which it most certainly is! But in the midst of all the festivities, there is another side to the story that most people don’t get to see – a story that showcases community involvement, kindness, and generosity during this annual celebration.

I grew up in New Orleans and lived there until Hurricane Katrina devastated my family’s home. Now a proud Austinite, I still return to the city as often as I can. And there is no time more exciting in New Orleans than Mardi Gras. This year, I scratched an item off my bucket list and joined a Krewe. Krewes are organizations that fundraise and plan throughout the year to put on a parade during Mardi Gras.

My krewe, the Krewe of Thoth, was founded in 1947 and was specifically created to parade in front of 14 institutions that care for persons with disabilities and illnesses. Because of their current medical conditions, these individuals are unable to attend other parades in the city. One of the main beneficiaries of the Krewe of Thoth’s parade is the Children’s Hospital in Uptown New Orleans. This krewe has grown from 50 members and five floats in 1947 to over 1,600 members and 50 floats today. I was personally inspired by the mission of this krewe, and to be immersed in the festivities from atop one of the floats was a blast. Community involvement doesn’t get much more fun than this!

 

Growing up seeing the parades go by, it doesn’t even cross your mind the logistics, money and organization it takes to put on a single parade – much less the entire celebration. Being behind the scenes gives you an understanding of the momentous task and cooperation it takes to celebrate Mardi Gras. Whatever the effort though, it’s totally worth it to feel just a little bit like a rock star from atop a parade float. It’s a surreal experience and definitely a highlight memory reel.

In practice, Mardi Gras (surprisingly) can be a family-friendly and community-centric experience. It’s a “free” party, and anyone and everyone is invited. It’s a great time to witness humanity in all of its glory.  It’s a time to celebrate life, good, bad and otherwise and move into a time of meditation with the Lenten season.

They say that the experience of travel influences your brain to be more creative. Although I have traveled and have found this to be true, growing up around Mardi Gras has also allowed me to have a wide range of experiences in one place. It’s never the same twice, but always produces a few treasured memories (at least I have pictures – the memories usually come later in bits and pieces).