Mardi Gras Mambo

“Throw me something mister!”

A float from Krewe of Iris Parade

A float from Krewe of Iris Parade

We took the kids to their first Mardi Gras in the Big Easy.

Kids? Mardi Gras? Do those two even go together?

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It can, depending on which parades and where you go to see them.

When I went to my first Mardi Gras parade as an LSU grad student, I was amazed at how family-friendly the daytime parades could be. Everyone back home kept asking me incrediously, “You went to Mardi Gras? Wasn’t it crazy – full of debauchery and strippers?” Unfortunately, that’s a typical reaction, not only for Northwestern Louisiana, but pretty much the rest of the country.

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The Krewe of Iris is the only all-female Krewe.

We went to the daytime parades of Iris and Tucks, which are held the Saturday before the actual Mardi Gras day. The weekend parades just before Fat Tuesday have always been my favorite and since it coincided with President’s Day holiday this year, we decided it was time to go back.

These parades start in Uptown and travel down St. Charles Avenue – far away from the French Quarter. We stood on St. Charles near the intersection of Constantinople. We were about two blocks from Sacred Heart Academy whose annual fundraiser sells food and offers their portable bathroom facilities for $5 a wristband or $1 per bathroom visit; a bargain if you ask me.

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The Krewe of Iris parade started at 11 am, so we arrived about 10 am to find a spot. Tents, grills and tarps marked spaces for large groups along the neutral ground – the median area in the middle of St. Charles.  On the other side, chairs and people lined up but there was much more space. Some residents temporarily fenced in their front yards to the sidewalk to keep parade-goers out and to reserve their own space for only their invited guests.

 

Ladders with a decorated box on top – for kids to sit in – lined both sides of the street. Dads and sons threw footballs in the street. We were in a residential area filled with families.

Notice all the kids behind us

Notice all the kids behind us on specially decorated ladders.

Before the parade. Notice the beads stuck in the tree from the previous night's parade.

Before the parade. Notice the beads stuck in the tree from the previous night’s parade.

Further up towards St. Charles and Napoleon, college kids from nearby Tulane and Loyola, crowded the area. People wore colorful costumes, tutus, wigs. My children dared me to don a gold sequin jacket somebody had given me as a gift. Where else besides and LSU game can I wear it?

After the first parade, a small walking parade came through before the Tucks parade.

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Part of the walking parade between Iris and Tucks

 

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One of our friends was part of the walking parade.

 

Part of the walking parade featured this group scooting around on recliners to Frant Sinatra music.

Part of the walking parade featured this group scooting around on recliners to Frank Sinatra music.

The Krewe of Tucks is known for its irreverence and toilet humor. Throws include toilet paper, beads with a latrine, small toilet plungers, as well as the typical colorful beads, cups, stuffed animals and frisbees. It was still tame.

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A float from Tucks Parade

We opted not to go to the night-time parade of Endymion – only because the kids were tired. Leaving New Orleans, we could see cars pouring into the city. We remembered that the night parades are more crowded and usually rowdier – especially those like Endymion that go closer to downtown. We made the right decision and called it a day.

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A great day!

 


Dia de los Reyes – Three Kings Day at the Atlanta History Center

On January 4, we attended Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings Day) at the Atlanta History Center. This annual event is sponsored by the Mexican Consulate and the Insituto de Mexico.

 

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Besides the free admission to the museum and the grounds, a large celebration was held in the ballroom. Children were sporting royal crowns and they could get their picture taken with the three kings. There were live performances on the stage, as well as tamales for sale.

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My favorite dance was the group of 7 or 8 boys who held canes and walked around the room. Each boy was shorter than the one before and they wore masks and straw hats. On their second lap around the room, they each shook hands with the ladies.

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Other traditional dances followed.

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For just $1, a large slice of king cake could be purchased. It wasn’t the traditional king cake that I’m used to. It was less of a pastry and more of a sweet bread – almost like Hawaiian bread with a few candied pieces on top. IMG_4103

Even Home Depot had a table where kids could build a wooden toy.

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We walked around the museum and enjoyed the temporary exhibit called American Sabor: Latinos in Popular US Music. It was divided into five primary sections of the United States: Los Angelos, San Francisco, San Antonio, New York and Miami and discussed the music and artists that came from those regions.I always knew that Richie Valens,Gloria Estefan and Los Lobos were Latino, but I had no clue about Joan Baez and Freddie Fender. The exhibit mentioned some of the early trailblazers like Tito Puente and Ricky Ricardo. I found it interesting.

My husband toured another special exhibit on Confederate artifacts from the George W. Wray Jr. collection. Additonally, we walked the grounds outside and popped into McElreath Hall for an exhibit on Wilbur G. Kurtz, who was the official historian during the making of the movie, “Gone With the Wind.”

 

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For more information, visit the website at http://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/program/three-kings-day-dia-de-los-reyes. To learn more about the American Sabor: Latinos in Popular US Music, visit https://americansabor.org/.


Christmas Festival of Lights – Natchitoches, LA

Natchitoches is the oldest town in Louisiana, the Bed & Breakfast Capital of Louisiana and home of the famous Natchitoches Meat Pie. On our way back from Houston, we decided to make a detour through Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-Uh-Tish) to catch the Christmas Festival of Lights before it ended on January 4. Although this is the 88th year of the festival, I’ve only been to see the lights once before – suprising considering I grew up only 60 miles away in Shreveport.

However, it wasn’t until the Christmas lights were featured in the 1989 blockbuster movie “Steel Magnolias,” starring Sally Field and Julia Roberts, that people in Shreveport started paying attention to Natchitoches – the sleepy (yet Lousiana’a oldest) town situated on the Cane River. Although I enjoyed the lights when I saw them for the first time in 1991,  things can change in 23 years. Would the lights be worth this crazy jaunt?

We exited the main highway at Livingston, Texas and meandered on two-lane roads through Woodville, Dolan and Zavalla. The drive proved scenic over the Sam Rayburn Reservoir and Toldedo Bend at dusk. It was definitely a part of Texas, none of us had seen before. Sign posts informed us that we were traveling on part of the El Camino Real de los Tejas.

Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Crossing into Louisiana, things were familiar:

the town of Many which I hadn’t been to since the mid 1970’s,

Highway 171 which leads to Zwolle – the home of the Zwolle Tamale Festival,

and the interchange at I-49, the only north/south interstate in Louisiana.

We  knew we were in Natchitoches when we passed the Northwestern State University campus (formerly Lousiana State Normal School)- where both my grandparents graduated. In fact, my grandfather was one of the first graduates of the newly offered four-year program in 1921.

Once we got downtown to Front Street, lights were everywhere – over 300,000 of them! They dotted the downtown street which “fronted” the Cane River.DSC_0117

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Parking was easy along the street – probably since it was a Monday night and after Christmas. There was a walkway along the river so we took it. Alas – there were the lights I remembered on my first visit. Over 100 riverfront set pieces graced the Cane River and were fabulous!

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Even the bridge across the river was lit with dancing lights.

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Along the path, there were festival booths that offered the famous Natchitoches Meat Pies, funnel cakes and hot dogs. However, our eyes were peeled on the lights and how they reflected on the river.

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At the end of the walk, we headed back up to the downtown street and window shopped. My spouse jokingly said he wanted the large gumbo pot for next Christmas while one of my daughters asked me to pronounce items on the street sign.

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During the festival which runs for about six weeks, there is a parade, fireworks, a tour of homes and many other events. For more information, visit the website at http://www.christmasfestival.com/.


Bethlehem

A family tradition is to take a walk through Bethlehem sponsored by St. John United Methodist Church in Atlanta. It’s usually held on the first weekend of December and this year didn’t disappoint. Centurions at the city gates yelled out, “Sign the Census. Sign the Census.”

 

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The first order of business is to sign the Census rolls upon entering Bethlehem

 

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After signing the scrolls on the table lit only by candlelight, we entered the city. It was bustling with music, drumbeats and people all over the place. In one corner was a woman selling bread. Another market vendor sold bright jewelry but gave beautiful precious stones to the children. Soldiers urged people along to pay their taxes. A group of children were getting their Hebrew lessons. One woman came up and asked us if we had seen the bright star in the sky.

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Bethlehem is translated as bread of life

 

Hebrew children are learning their lessons

Hebrew children are learning their lessons

 

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“I have beautiful jewelry to sell you.”

We were ushered to the room to pay our taxes. While there, we were told there was no room in any of the inns nearby.

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Time to pay taxes

"We have no room at our inn."

“We have no room at our inn.”

As we exit the city, there are three angels on the roof singing “Emmanuel.” Afterwards, our attendtion is focused on the stable and a live nativity with Mary, Joseph, a baby (this time a real live baby!). It’s cold outside and we feel for the actors having to perform on such an evening. Yet, it is a reminder that it may have been that cold or colder when Baby Jesus was born. As children sit on the hay bales, a donkey grazes nearby. The three wise men arrive carrying their gifts to the new born king. As the song concludes, the church minister welcomes us and invites us into the sanctuary for music, the chapel for prayers and the fellowship hall for cookies and hot chocolate.

 

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Wise men greet the new baby

Wise men bow to the newborn King

 

We head into the narthex of the sanctuary where the lights are dimmed low. Christmas carols come from the piano in the sanctuary. All is calm. Candles are ablaze and the altar is flanked by two Christmon trees. Common in the United Methodist church, these are green Christmas trees with white lights and white and gold ornaments. Although it sounds plain, it is beautiful. A few people sit on the pews and listen to the musician. It’s peaceful in here, but the children don’t want any part of it.

The fragrance of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies fill the air upon entering fellowship hall. Served on platters are treats of all shapes and sizes: sugar cookies, chocolate dipped pretzels, brownies, lemon bars and  of course, the chocolate chip cookies. The lady who offered us goodies informs us that there is a children’s area with crafts. Taking our cookies and hot chocolate to the far corner, we are some of the first to arrive. One child is trying on headscarbes from biblical times. Coloring pages and crayons are on another table. My little neighbor makes a beeline for the big craft table. Using two popsicle sticks, children are instructed to decorate and glue the manger to a sheet of construction paper. After adding hay, they add the Baby Jesus and a blanket to cover him. In the background, the Charlie Brown Christmas Special plays on a nearby screen.

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We get one last round of drinks – this time hot apple cider before heading out. Two women have a table set up for donations to the Community Action Center in nearby Sandy Springs. They thank us for visiting. But I thank them. Without this experience, it wouldn’t feel like Christmas. For more information, visit http://stjohnatlanta.org.