Simon Richard’s Tuesday would’ve been special this week. Now 17, it would have marked his first opportunity to participate fully in the Courir de Mardi Gras celebration in the Acadia Parish village of Morse. His family has been involved in that event for years.
No such luck, not in 2021. First COVID-19, then the imminent frigid weather ruined all his plans.
The Lafayette High senior, who is eying studying anthropology and Cajun and Creole Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette next year, was a no-go for the formal run in Morse because of the pandemic and its health threat.
Then he planned to hold his own run in his back yard Tuesday, which would involve killing a chicken – his family’s unruly rooster, actually -- and cooking a gumbo. No luck there, either: The cold front headed for Acadiana meant he needed to kill his chicken this weekend and forgo the Tuesday celebration at home.
The fowl was in the freezer Saturday afternoon.
Cancelation of Mardi Gras parades in Acadiana has left locals with little to do on their Tuesday state holiday, save stave off the cold. Simon Richard was feeling that pain Saturday.
David Cheramie, who oversees the Cajun and Creole Living History Museum and Folklife Park in Vermilionville, spent Saturday doing his income taxes on a day that might have otherwise been spent watching parades and participating in celebrations.
“It’s a hit to the economy,” Cheramie said of the cancelations. “Mardi Gras is a revenue generator.”
How much of a revenue generator hasn’t been formally studied for more than a decade, but in 2010, surveys said more than 272,000 people viewed an average of 4.6 parades each in Lafayette during the Mardi Gras season, which generated 1.26 million attendances in total that year. About a third of those involved “day trippers” visiting from out of town or overnight visitors renting hotel rooms.
The total economic impact then: More than $100 million.
But Cheramie said the impact is more than a dollar-and-cents matter.
“Mardi Gras is at the core of what our culture is in south Louisiana,” he said. “It’s at the base of everything we do.”
He said as long as he can remember, krewes celebrated Mardi Gras in Lafayette and the surrounding communities – even through an ice storm seven years back.
“I remember that year,” he said, discussing what’s expected to be a harsh winter event during this long weekend. Lows are expected to be 25 on Sunday, 16 on Monday and 25 on Tuesday.
But Cheramie said the pandemic poses too grave a threat to public health to invite crowds to press against one another and to risk the spread of the novel coronavirus. Better to cancel.
He said some 50,000 cases were contracted at Mardi Gras in New Orleans last year, claiming the lives of many prominent Cajuns and Creoles who typically celebrate and pass along the Louisiana Cajun and Creole French cultures.
Betty Girouard, former chairperson at Le Musee de Kaplan, and Ann Henry, museum curator, said they hope historic exhibits in that Vermilion Parish town will salve the pain this year of not seeing the Krewe of Chic-la-Paix, which has offered a Mardi Gras parade since 1954.
“We do have a little bit of Mardi Gras” through the museum exhibits, she said, which are on display from 9:00 to 1:00, Wednesday through Saturday.
Henry said Kaplan merchants decorated their buildings this season to celebrate Mardi Gras, and the prize for top exhibit – the Ruby – went to Cajun Coffee on Highway 14. The Ruby is named for Ruby Bailey, originator of the Chic-la-Paix.
Girouard said she’s not worried that people will forget their Mardi Gras traditions, not for just one year, although she said she values the annual celebration as a way to carry forward the Louisiana French culture.
“It’s not harmful, not to miss it for just one year, but it is discouraging for people who like to party and drink,” she said with a laugh.
Richard said he treasures south Louisiana traditions, embraces the French language and relishes his opportunity to fully participate in Mardi Gras events — next year. The run will happen in Morse and he will be there, he said.
Cheramie said Vermilionville will be open from 10-4 on Mardi Gras and will feature some Mardi Gras exhibits and demonstrations. The park won’t hold an annual Mardi Gras run, but the village will be open and exhibits will include costumes, some Mardi Gras discussions hosted by exhibitors and artisans, gumbo demonstrations in the cooking school – “stuff we normally do.”
“If people want to do something on Mardi Gras, I hope they will come out.”