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Mardi Gras 2021: New Orleans embracing smaller celebrations on one of the Big Easy's biggest nights

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Fat Tuesday is looking a little leaner than in previous years.

New Orleans had previously announced that all Mardi Gras parades — a fixture of the city’s annual celebrations — would be canceled ahead of the holiday, amid concerns that such gatherings would become “super spreader events of the COVID-19 virus.” What’s more, all bars within the city were ordered to close as of last Friday, and to remained closed through Feb. 16, for the same reason.

“We’re worried about the entire city and that’s why we’re putting these guidelines in place,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said earlier this month when announcing the latest regulations for bar owners.

Fast forward to the present, and these restrictions are contributing to a very different Mardi Gras for residents. For starters, NOLA’s famed Bourbon Street was closed off to vehicles and pedestrians as of Tuesday morning, and tourists are few and far between, as they’re actively being warned to steer clear of not only the city, but the state.

Elvin King III, a senior at Warren Easton High and member of their marching band which was slated to perform in a now-canceled parade, poses for a portrait in front of his home in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Elvin King III, a senior at Warren Easton High and member of their marching band which was slated to perform in a now-canceled parade, poses for a portrait in front of his home in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“If people think they’re going to come to Louisiana, anywhere, or New Orleans and engage in the kind of activities they would have pre-pandemic then they are mistaken and quite frankly they are not welcome here to do that,” Gov. John Bel Edwards warned potential visitors at a recent news conference.

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But in the days leading up to Feb. 16 — days normally filled with parade krewes and revelers lining the streets — some New Orleanians have found their own small ways of celebrating. Street performers are attempting to fill the quieter streets with music. Neighborhood krewes are hosting drive-by “tableaux” viewings, with krewe members posing as motionless models for the “living” paintings. And, in the absence of parade floats, thousands of homes across the city are becoming “house floats.”

The “house float” fad started trending in late November, after the city announced the cancellation of parades. Megan Joy Boudreaux was one of the earliest to pitch the idea, first on Twitter and then with a Facebook group, the Associated Press reported. By the beginning of the new year, her Facebook group jhad swelled to over 9,000 members.

Those participating in the “house float” idea are hopefully contributing to a more socially-distant celebration. Boudreaux had instructed her followers to get their decorations up weeks ahead of Mardi Gras, so visitors would be able to view the homes at their leisure, unimpeded by the crowds that normally accompany a traditional parade. Boudreaux also encouraged homeowners to hire local artists to help decorate their “house floats,” in an effort to put some of NOLA’s out-of-work vendors to work.

Passersby stop for photos in front of a house decorated for Mardi Gras. 

Passersby stop for photos in front of a house decorated for Mardi Gras. 
(Lan Wei/Xinhua via Getty)

So far, the idea is a hit.

“Even when Mardi Gras comes back, I think people are going to keep doing this,” said one resident of St. Charles Avenue.

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Of course, Mardi Gras 2021 isn’t over just yet — and NOLA’s creativity knows no bounds. But it’s likely there’s nothing more planned for the Big Easy’s biggest night.

“Life as usual is gone,” said Antoinette de Alteriss, captain of the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc, in a statement to the Associated Press. “So we had to look for different ways of doing things this year.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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