Stephen Jewell remembers the question that frequently popped up when he worked with the 2020 Lions Club Mardi Gras Parade in New Roads.
“On the morning of Mardi Gras, we kept asking about the coronavirus and what it was all about,” he recalled.
“Little did we know how much it would change our lives so dramatically over the next few years, even though we were writing it off at the time.”
The pandemic practically shut down the nation and much of the world less than two weeks after Mardi Gras on Feb. 25, 2020.
It also led to cancellation of the 2021 Fat Tuesday festivities in Pointe Coupee Parish and almost everywhere else.
Two years later, the Community Center of Pointe Coupee of New Roads, the Livonia Carnival Association and the New Roads Lions Club say they will resume their parades in 2022.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, festivities in Livonia will roll Sunday, Feb. 27, while the two New Roads parades will proceed on Mardi Gras, Tuesday, March 1.
“I hope nothing stops it this year,” said Lee Audrey Porche, president of the Community Center Club. “The parade will coincide with our centennial, so it’s extra special and we don’t want anything to get in our way.”
The time span since the last parade seems much longer, said Steve Morgan – who, along with his wife, Mary – co-founded the Livonia parade krewe.
The parade is one part Mardi Gras celebration and one part reunion, he said.
“It seems like it’s been a long time coming for next year’s parade,” he said.
“A lot of people look forward to Mardi Gras, and over here it’s a big family thing, something that’s good in our town for everyone to see the people they grew up with and went to school with – and that’s a big part of it for us.”
The centennial celebration makes it even more important that the Community Center parade rolls as scheduled, Porche said.
The celebration would not seem the same after the fact.
“This year, we’re looking most forward to celebrating the anniversary, to have a big attendance, bringing as many of our past kings and queens together,” she said.
“Obviously, a lot of the old ones have passed on, but we have a lot of people carrying it on. We’re a small group, but we’ve got to make it happen,” Porche said.
“We have to do just like a parade – we have to move forward.”
Parade krewes and spectators are obviously enthusiastic about a return of the revelry and colossal celebrations.
But Jewell said he wonders if some participants are approaching the festivities with a sense of caution.
“So far, we have only one official competitive float entry, but we anticipate six to eight floats,” he said. “I think the groups that build the floats are perhaps waiting until after Christmas to make sure it’s all still a go.”
Part of the uncertainty looms from the omicron variant. The new COVID-19 variant has not posed a major threat, but parade organizers say they cannot afford to take any threat likely.
It’s a lesson the Lions Club learned last year, Jewell said.
“We held out on cancellation last year, hoping we might be able to roll,” he said.
“The Carnival Club made an early announcement last year that they would not roll, and then we thought maybe we could still have a parade, but that was an unrealistic expectation.”
Omicron is a concern, but the thought of cancellation has not become part of the discussion, Porche said.
The late Mardi Gras this year should give organizers a much better idea of what they should expect, Jewell said.
While the pandemic is likely in the rearview mirror, another challenge looms.
Prices have increased for Mardi Gras-related items, such as beads and throws, and some of those items are tougher to find due to the supply shortage.
The same goes for lumber and, of course, fuel to move the floats.
“Everything goes up every year, but it’s a big challenge this year,” Porche said. “Mardi Gras is good for our local economy, but the preparation is expensive.
“Everybody got hit with a double whammy – first, the pandemic and now the price increases,” she said.
“We’re still trying to get our budget straight because donations are coming in slow, but we will still make money from our ball, thanks to the ticket sales.”
The extra cost for parade organizers still beat the prospect of no celebration, which was tough for Livonia, Morgan said.
“It was a little financial blow between the lumber stores, the grocery stores, and other businesses … a lot of chicken, burgers and hotdogs are consumed that day,” he said.
“It broke a lot of people’s hearts that we couldn’t hold it last year, and they really missed it, but it was out of our control.”
All three parade agree the show must go on, if all possible.
Morgan said the parade has become a big Livonia tradition, and he would hate to see another cancellation.
The return of Mardi Gras festivities will carry more meaning than the economic boost and continuance of tradition, Jewell said.
In 2022, it will help move people past the hardships of the past two years.
“Every step back to what we knew as normalcy will help,” Jewell said. “Getting back to the things people were so accustomed to will be good for morale helps people overcome the pandemic.”