If Mardi Gras is so great, one might ask as another Fat Tuesday arrives today, then why hasn’t it been copied across the land?
Maybe it’s because any effort to duplicate Mardi Gras beyond south Louisiana would surely lead to efforts to improve it, making it into something no one would recognize.
The charm of Mardi Gras— and its maddening complication — is its monstrous inefficiency. The parades are longer than any prudent planner would make them. The distribution of beads and other trinkets is random, excessive, profligate — in short, a reveler’s rebuke to any student of logistics. As for the Mardi Gras diet — king cakes, cocktails, gumbo and goodness-knows-what-else – suffice it to say that it’s a running revolt against restraint.
One can only imagine how a prudent reformer might refine Mardi Gras if it were attempted in some saner city — like Portland, Oregon, say, or Peoria, Illinois. The parades would be shorter, no doubt, more punctual, with an eye toward keeping everyone on schedule. Transplanted to tamer places, a Mardi Gras menu might replace king cake with bran muffins, bourbon with herbal tea, gumbo with tofu. Departing from the decadence of Fat Tuesday fashion, the revelers in this morally rehabilitated Fat Tuesday would all wear something not too form-fitting, complemented by sensible shoes.
But the magic of Mardi Gras — the one we know and love – is that it transcends the mean arithmetic of means and ends, the arid geometry of the straight line, the grim insistence that hard fact is somehow invariably better than heady fantasy.
Yes, Mardi Gras is too much — too much noise, too much food, too much togetherness. But like all holidays, it makes a meaning from its heedless plenitude.
Whether it’s the over-the-top feast of Thanksgiving or the overdone celebration of Christmas, most of our holidays indulge excess as a civic creed. It’s our way of affirming abundance — our simple faith that life’s fortune, even spent generously, bears the seeds of its own renewal.
Mardi Gras arrives at just the right time each year — after the merriment of yuletide has passed, and a weary world needs a bridge between the cheer of Christmas and the promise of Easter.
Much has happened since last year’s Mardi Gras. Louisiana has been touched by violence, flooding and tornadoes, our nation by politics that grow more divisive by the day.
We need Mardi Gras now more than ever, and we welcome its promise of a pause in life’s cares, a chance to party and play.
So let the good times roll, and Happy Mardi Gras to all.