Mardi Grasrevives New Orleans

Mardi Gras festivities bring money and spirit to New Orleans.

The spirit of Mardi Gras permeated New Orleans on Saturday as large crowds turned out to watch parades and fill the French Quarter with Mardi Gras festivities. Despite opposition from those who believe the citywide party is inappropriate amid the continuing devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Mardi Gras is the perfect way for locals to show the world New Orleans can survive.

Attendance at this year’s festivities is expected to be much greater than last year’s celebration, which was the first Mardi Gras since Katrina destroyed much of the city and killed 1,300 people in August 2005. Even though attendance will not exceed the pre-storm level of about 1 million people, it will easily surpass the 2006 scaled-down version.

With an increased attendance, local businesses are expecting to thrive these next couple weeks as party revelers flock to local eateries, adorn themselves in trinkets and purchase mass amounts of beads. Local officials have reported that hotels in the area are all near capacity and most flights into the city are full. Bars and restaurants are expecting strong business, and many had increased reconstruction efforts in preparation for the festivities. One of the lingering problems for restaurants and bars has been the lack of employees, and many places have scrambled to find workers. Visitors, however, are understandably not complaining, and the festivities are proving to be a huge hit for local businesses.

The potential for huge economic success, however, does not tell the full story of Mardi Gras. Instead, locals stress its role in the self-image and psyche of the city. Mardi Gras is playing a vital role in reuniting a population that has been greatly dispersed by Katrina. Today, much of New Orleans is still in ruins and less than half the pre-hurricane population of 480,000 has returned. This month’s festivities, however, are bringing back many locals.

Mardi Gras represents a return to the customs and norms that are so integral to the cultural and historical fabric of New Orleans, and its return is a hopeful step forward in the long recovery from Hurricane Katrina.