Today marks what once was my favorite day of the year: the end of Mardi Gras. One may argue that this can’t possibly be the end when today is Mardi Gras. While perhaps true, the beckoning of Mardi Gras itself concludes the culmination of a year’s worth of hype and expectation. That definitive ending was always liberating, allowing distance to begin before the anticipation resurfaced.
The end of Mardi Gras meant I could stop. I could breathe. I could freeze. I could sleep. I could pause and apologize to my body for pushing it to limits unknown. The ending was liberating, despite the departure of temporary, unbridled freedom. Because in reality, the lawlessness and apparent freedom of Mardi Gras came with a price; it was conditional on the pressure to squeeze every last second out of the opportunity. If you were not the Party, you were not doing Mardi Gras correctly. That social and internal stress of wanting and not wanting to make the most of the alternate reality of New Orleans weighed heavy for days until Tuesday, when it was over.
On the seventh day of parades and pandemonium, the Mardi Gras gods (and college students) rested.
The thing about Mardi Gras is that it was always more fun in theory than it ever actually was. I have several friends who would agree that Mardi Gras, quite simply, sucks. It has its merits and novelties, but after the first one, you can never recapture that virginal dazzlement of magic. It isn’t enchanting anymore; it’s war.
You’re at war against your body, putting it through things that you know are fundamentally harmful, compounded on the fleeting freedom. If not now, when? For a week, I became a Mardi Gras marathoner who sprinted too hard in the middle, collapsing before the finish line.
New Orleans is awful during Mardi Gras. Ubers are a hundred dollars. A million people who don’t know the space or the culture or the rules flood the city. Your favorite bars aren’t worth visiting because they’re filled with students from Georgia and Texas who have a skewed understanding of Mardi Gras. The streets are overflowing with people and nothing is open. It’s like a snowstorm, but with parades instead of flurries and flakes.
In this less than idyllic setting, you’re told to have fun. Live it up. Cover yourself in glitter and temporary tattoos (maybe that was just me?) and drink and stay drunk until it’s over. This is not a sustainable way of living, yet I did it, thrice.
When I think back to Mardi Gras, it’s with a veil of chaos that I don’t need to relive. I’ll go back to New Orleans and I’ll probably do Mardi Gras again, but it won’t be the same. I won’t be a student, so I won’t have to run in the race. I’ll be able to go at my own pace, enjoying without the stress.
There were aspects of Mardi Gras that I loved, like the sense of community in meeting strangers and playing dress up. But I don’t miss getting in the back of a U-Haul van driven by a non-sober freshman pledge or the heat or the hunger or the crowd. There’s nothing in the world like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and that’s okay.
Certain aspects of Mardi Gras have stayed with me, like the crafts and glitter, while other pieces like my alcohol tolerance and desire to be out (when it was an option) past 1 AM I’ve lost along the way.
As Mardi Gras ends (despite never truly beginning this year because of the pandemic), I’m nostalgic but I don’t miss it. I did it, it’s done, I’ll do it again, but never in the same capacity. Living outside of that cycle of expectation has its freedom, too. Mardi Gras isn’t a requirement in my life anymore, but rather something fond that will be there if I ever want it.