Before the pandemic, more than 1 million people would travel to New Orleans to eat delicious food, dance down Bourbon Street and marvel at larger-than-life parade floats on Mardi Gras.
The usual festivities are canceled because of the pandemic — but Mardi Gras isn’t dead. People in New Orleans are giving the celebration a different kind of life that adheres to social distancing protocols.
This year, New Orleans residents are transforming their front porches into themed parade floats to celebrate “Yardi Gras.”
Staycation is the theme in Judy Walker‘s neighborhood. She’s a retired food editor for the Times-Picayune and writes a column for The Advocate.
Walker and her husband adopted a ginger tabby cat named Queso in May. The couple felt inspired to build a float that salutes “staycation companions” for Yardi Gras, she says.
Their house doesn’t have a porch, so Walker’s husband built a tall, black plywood structure and painted it with the stripes of a tabby cat. The mini float features photos of Queso as well as neighbors’ and friends’ cats and dogs.
“People here are super, super creative,” she says. “And I think one reason this went so crazy is because people poured the energy that they would normally put into making costumes into their house floats.”
Part of the joy of Mardi Gras is the throws, beads and other items that people on floats toss into the crowds. Handmade throws have been trendy in recent years, she says.
Walker used scrap fabric to make stuffed cat heads and sequined cat headbands. And she bought Milk-Bones for dogs hoping to pig out this Fat Tuesday.
Walker’s Mardi Gras feast will include fried chicken, Creole gumbo and potato salad from the city’s famous Dooky Chase restaurant, which normally isn’t open during the celebration.
“The fried chicken is really an iconic Mardi Gras food because people buy it from Popeye’s and take it to the parades,” she says.
Jambalaya and gumbo are traditionally served at house parties, she says. People can celebrate by making red Creole jambalaya with tomatoes or the brown Cajun version of the dish with any protein and lots of vegetables — including the “Holy Trinity” of celery, onion and bell pepper, she says. Or ambitious home cooks can try making gumbo, a perfect meal for cold weather.
For decorations, Walker says to lay on the glitter and incorporate traditional colors such as purple, green and gold.
“The blingier, the better,” she says.
The day after Mardi Gras is Ash Wednesday, which starts the six-week-long season of Lent leading up to Easter. During this time of reflection, Walker is thinking about how the losses of the last year made her stronger and more grateful.
As more people she knows get vaccinated, Walker says she’s hopeful New Orleans will put on a “real Mardi Gras next year.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.