Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

First, let me offer the obligatory Happy New Year to all! Now, on to my musings for the beginning of 2014.

Yesterday was January 6th which is the official kick off of my favorite time of the year in the land of Louis, Laveau and Lafitte.

Just a side note for those of you outside of our area. A scandalous event recently took place in Lafayette Cemetery #2 located on Washington Avenue just across the street from the world famous Commander's Palace restaurant and adjacent to the original site of the Baptist Bible Institute (which would later become the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary). The tomb purported to house the remains of the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau was painted… pink. Kinda funny since people from all over the world visit this tomb to draw three X’s on the tomb, knock three times, make a “wish” or “request” and offer a sacrifice by leaving behind a token or memento. The Gilpin family, the present day owners of the particular mausoleum, have prohibited the act, calling it vandalism, yet no one seems to care. The Archdiocese who is ultimately responsible for the cemetery have already “pressure washed” the tomb, much to the dismay of the “save our cemetery” activists who wanted to delicately restore the sepulcher. It’s quite the brouhaha.

Anywho, now toward the off-the-cuff purpose for this post. January 6th is Epiphany, the official end of the Christmas season culminating in Twelfth Night celebrations. This day begins the Carnival Season in the New Orleans area (and for that matter any area where Roman Catholicism is the dominant denomination). Carnival is the flexibly dated season of celebration between January 6th and midnight of Mardi Gras where adherents take on a sort of Epicurean view of “living it up” before the very Stoic time of the sacrifice and self-denial of the Lenten Season. The length of the season is flexible since Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is based on the start of Lent (beginning on Ash Wednesday) which is calculated backing up from Easter, which is based on the Lunar calendar. Thus, some years, due to a late Easter, we get to experience a long Carnival Season (like this year) and some years the season is short. Regardless, is a GREAT time to live in the Big Easy.

The parades are plentiful. Here in New Orleans we have “Krewes.” Think of these groups as you would the Kiwanis, Optimists, Lions or other social organizations. These are organizations people pay to join that put on elaborate parades which take place all around the metro area. This year alone there will be close to 60 Krewes rolling in the metro area all through the Carnival season. Last night Carnival was kicked off by the Joan of Arc Parade and the Phunny Phorty Phellows. These two groups "announce" the beginning of the season and then on Mardi Gras day, the season closes with the Krewes of Zulu and Rex rolling in New Orleans. The parades have large, ornately adorned floats which are genuinely impressive and include marching bands from around the area as well as visiting schools that travel in to participate in the fun. The float riders pay to ride and pay for their own “throws." Throws are beads, toys and other silly objects thrown from the floats which adults and kids alike enjoy trying to secure (and although our attics are full of bags and boxes of these worthless trinkets we can't seem to get enough). Only a couple of these parades are adult themed so more often than not parades are full of family and friends cooking out and enjoying a day at play. There’s even The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus for the Starwars fan and the Mystic Krewe of Barkus populated by dogs and their owners.

Now, I know my Pharisee-oriented, fundamentalist friends are already beginning to point the finger. However, if you’d just have the blessing of living here you’d see that Carnival Season (Mardi Gras is just one day out of the whole season) is not defined by Girls Gone Wild, drunken revelry, foolish college students or the worship of pagan gods on parade floats (not to say these things aren’t present, just that it is a relatively small expression of activity relegated to certain sections of the city).

Carnival is a time of celebration. Yes, its etymologically linked to the word “carnal.” Yes, the bible speaks negatively about “carnality.” However, the purpose of this time of jubilee is to celebrate the birth, death and resurrection of Christ until Lent (the time of introspection and contemplation when many people fast, or give up something as a token of appreciation for what Christ gave up for them). Certainly, in many ways Carnival has devolved into something misunderstood, commercialized (in the case of New Orleans), overblown and arguably an excuse for excess, but the beauty at the core of Carnival is inspiring.

Regardless of the length of the Carnival Season other things contribute to the gloriousness of this time of year. Crawfish season is coming. Although large, cheap and plentiful crawfish won’t normally hit the market until late February or early March the fact is, crawfish is on the way. I recently overheard one of my church members telling another that they’ve never seen anyone put away as much crawfish as their pastor. Not only do I take that as a compliment, I’d like to also offer that as a challenge to anyone who’d like to take me up on it. You’re buying. ;)

Academically, the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Institute for Christian Apologetics (ICA) hosts it’s Defend the Faith Conference in January then ICA’s world class Greer-Heard Point-Counter Point event happens in February.

Further, both Michelle and I celebrate our birthdays in February. Spring time hits us in March, which is the perfect time for top-down rides in the jeep down River Road, through the parks, down Magazine and through the Quarter and Marigny. The misery of the summer sun and humidity are still a season away and the sweet aroma of the best food in the country wafts through the neighborhoods pulling you toward its cook like finger-tipped cartoon aroma draws a cartoon animal toward the off-limit oven.

And then there is the music! The sweet sound of our cultural soundtrack played and celebrated in the city where it was originally forged. Music and food festivals happen all around us. The French Quarter Fest takes place in mid April and then my favorite time of year culminates with the gigantic New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in late April early May.

Rarely does a day go by that I don’t thank God for allowing me the great blessing of living and ministering in and around what I believe to be the best city in America. Carnival is here! Turn on WWOZ and “laissez les bon temps rouler!”

Sing with me… “It’s the most wonderful time… of the year”

No comments: