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What a Pandemic-Era Mardi Gras Looks Like in New Orleans

By Rebecca Santana, Associated Press

Jan 7, 2021

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The Krewe of Oak toast Carnival as the Phunny Phorty Phellows start their 40th anniversary streetcar ride in New Orleans on January 6, 2021.

Photo by David Grunfeld/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP

The Krewe of Oak toast Carnival as the Phunny Phorty Phellows start their 40th anniversary streetcar ride in New Orleans on January 6, 2021.

New Orleanians are finding socially distant ways to celebrate the Carnival season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A subdued Carnival season began yesterday after the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the crowd-heavy balls and street parades that draw thousands of people to the city every year.

The Mardi Gras season always starts on January 6 and ends on Fat Tuesday, which this year falls on February 16. The season is usually marked by extravagant balls and parades where costumed riders throw trinkets to the mobs of people packed along the parade routes.

The coronavirus has put an end to those large events. But that has not stopped notoriously creative New Orleanians from coming up with socially distant ways to celebrate.

The Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc is a club that annually pays homage to the fallen French hero with a parade through the French Quarter on the official start of the Carnival season. This year, the krewe is hosting a “Tableaux de Jeanne d’Arc,” where onlookers will drive by various “tableaux”—a French term for “living pictures”—that will include stations of costumed revelers sparring as knights, sharpening their swords, and feasting at a grand fireplace with a pig roasting in the background.

“Life as usual is gone, so we had to look for different ways of doing things this year,” said Antoinette de Alteriis, one of the club’s captains.

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The Phunny Phorty Phellows, a group that usually gathers January 6 to mark the beginning of the season with a costumed party on a streetcar, also altered its plans. Usually throngs of people gather at the facility where the streetcar starts its journey to see the group off, but this year people were asked to disperse along the streetcar route and watch from there instead.

But people can still eat cake—king cake, that is. The sweet cakes, which are decorated with the official Carnival colors of purple, green, and gold, are only to be eaten starting January 6.

In Mobile, Alabama, dozens of parades, balls, and other events have also been canceled. The city on the Gulf of Mexico calls itself the birthplace of Mardi Gras since celebrations began there a few years earlier than in New Orleans.

Coastal Alabama typically begins its observances later in January than New Orleans, meaning the current coronavirus surge could be easing by the time events were set to start. But multiple organizations began announcing cancellations last month to protect the health of members and revelers.

Associated Press journalist Stacey Plaisance contributed to this report.

>>Next: Stunning Portraits of New Orleans’s Black Masking Indians

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