By Sarah Sammataro
In a world fraught with COVID-19, the city of New Orleans carries on in an uncharacteristic lull. Any other February, the city would be teeming with life, filled with enthusiastic tourists eager to participate in the legendary festivities of Mardi Gras. But this year, paradegoers must wait patiently inside, mandated to partake in revelries from the comfort and safety of their homes.
Every New Orleanian feels the absence of the parades this year. Without the vibrant hues of the parade floats or the flashing glimmer of beads, there is but little joy to alleviate the nipping cold of February. But while civilians lamented the loss of these parades, the city council put their heads together and theorized if there was a way in which Mardi Gras could be salvaged. Taking a cue from Pensacola, Florida, the city council of Jefferson Parish broached the topic of running parades in late May with hopes that cases of COVID-19 might be settling down amidst the vaccine and the warmer climate.
“We were for it,” said Missy Hildreth, captain of the Krewe of Excalibur. According to Hildreth, the council had entertained the idea of a flashy military-themed parade, set to run on Memorial Day weekend. But ultimately, the council shot it down.
Though disappointed, Hildreth says that she understands the council’s decision. “It’s disappointing, but it takes a lot of work to put on a parade,” said Hildreth, concerning the cancellation of rescheduling. As captain of the Krewe of Excalibur, and also the head of D&D Creations, Inc., Hildreth is well aware of this degree of work, responsible for crafting her Krewe’s regal wardrobes and fantastical floats, as well as managing the funds which make them possible.
When asked about how the cancellation of Mardi Gras had affected her Krewe, Hildreth Hildreth’s first response was a sardonic laugh. “It’s been rough,” she said with a chuckle, “Everything is on hold.” Rough, as it turns out, doesn’t even begin to cover the situation. As much as the citizens of the city miss their annual celebration, Krewe leaders like Hildreth are faced with another level of hardship amidst this quiet glum. When New Orleans hit the pause button on this year’s round of parades, many Krewe members became disheartened and disillusioned, losing hope and faith in their organization. And as these members faced this bleak reality, they tightened their grips on their wallets, wary to pay their dues.
“Nobody donates…This really damages morale.” The parades have been cancelled, and the court has been put off for a year. It can be easy to understand why people don’t want to pay up when things are looking this grim. With Mardi Gras cancelled for February and again for May, it looks like their money might as well be getting flushed down the drain. Yet the Krewe relies on these dues, and without this source of revenue, things may not fare too well in the future.
If there were to be a Mardi Gras in May, Hildreth couldn’t say for sure that her Krewe could pull it off. Putting together a parade is no small feat, especially when burdened by tight pockets and veiled by uncertainty. According to Hildreth, putting something together for May would be nearly impossible. Another suggestion by the city council was to run parades in September, but even that presents a challenge. “6-8 months would be difficult,” Hildreth claimed, disappointed but ever-realistic. Building floats, hand-painting the Krewe’s signature
wooden shields, designing costumes, and organizing schedules are but a few logistical and time-sensitive hurdles lining the route to a parade. And perhaps the logistics weren’t the only barrier to success in these unprecedented circumstances.
“This would’ve been brand new,” Hildreth said. Never before in her time as captain had she faced such a large-scale cancellation. The annual coming of Mardi Gras is embedded as deep into the city as the sunken cracks that furrow its below sea-level streets. To uproot this long-held practice would indubitably cause strife, and placatory attempts to reschedule the events may even infringe upon the holiday’s cultural and religious significance.
As a proud New Orleanian, Hildreth is no stranger to the importance of the Mardi Gras’ date, the day before Ash Wednesday. When asked if running parades on a different date would undermine the holiday’s cultural tradition, Hildreth replied, “Under normal circumstances, yes. But I would’ve been ok with it this year due to how weird everything has been.” Times are far from typical, and sometimes change is necessary. Though the historical relevance of Mardi Gras should not be discounted, given the opportunity, the Krewe of Excalibur would try its hardest to surmount the challenges and enjoy the holiday at a later date.
At the end of the day, Hildreth accepts the losses and the difficulties of this year, stating that there’s “not much we can do about it.” Although the pandemic has put a damper on the city and placed a strain on her Krewe, in the end, “it’s more important to keep everyone safe.”