LAFAYETTE — Twenty-two floats, 10 local bands, a group of unicyclists and a handful of clowns entertained eager crowds along Johnston Street for the 89th Lafayette Children’s Parade on Saturday.
Since its inception in 1926, the parade has hosted thousands of children clothed in elaborate costumes, local bands and young performers while promoting a family-oriented atmosphere.
“It’s a lot of hard work putting all of this together, but we have some great volunteers who put in a lot of time,” said Rick Chappuis, Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association parade chairman. “I’ve been helping out for about five years, but the Children’s Parade, in particular, is a really good day. Kids are here, and they are just so excited.”
Gene Lognion, assistant parade chairman, said it’s “the glow on the children’s faces” that brings him back each year.
Carencro High School’s band and the Judice Middle School unicyclists were only some of the local talent featured.
It’s customary to see plastic beads dangling from tree branches, power lines and rooftops, and with the parade taking place on Valentine’s Day, Angie Young, president of the Krewe of Oberon, said to expect a bit of red mixed in with the purple, gold and green.
Hearts and stuffed animals are in abundance this year, but despite what has become a modern tradition of celebration, it’s all about bringing out the youthfulness in both young and old, Young said.
“In the Children’s Parade, we get a chance to see something magical in a parade so big,” she continued. “It’s the spirit of what our ancestors brought alive here.”
Young’s twin daughters, Kaitlyn and Hailey, 14, are participating in this year’s parade as the krewe’s red queen and gold princess.
She said the children who are interested in participating must earn their positions by volunteering in the community, collecting canned goods and providing goodie bags for Hearts of Hope.
Though the other krewes, such as the Krewe of Versailles and Krewe of Camelot were created in the 1980s, they still hold their own traditions, like hosting pageantlike balls, where children re-enact story lines based on their krewe.
In the Krewe of Camelot, Jennifer Gardner, former krewe president, said that to keep the boys interested in participating in the parades, they are knighted as part of the “Knights of the Round Table” theme and are given proper names and equipment, such as shields.
Gardner’s 9-year-old twins, Andrew and Grace, held the positions of Merlin and gift bearer to the queen.
However, for paradegoers Donmitry Smith and fiancée Kasey Dupre, it’s not so much about the parade spoils but, instead, seeing their 9-month-old son Ace’s initial reaction to the carnival-like excitement.
“I’m really here for him,” Smith said. “He is just starting to gain a personality, so I just want to see how he will react to everything.”
Of course, there’s much more Mardi Gras yet to come in Lafayette.
Lognion said he has an optimistic outlook for Tuesday, despite weather forecasts calling for a cold, wet day.
Regardless, Chappuis said, the festivities will go on.
“Mardi Gras is our culture, and we are going to keep it alive,” Chappuis said. “It’s something that, rain or shine or cold or hot, we are going to do it. It’s a tradition that will never die.”