The City of New Orleans and New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell want to be very clear about one thing: New Orleans’s Mardi Gras celebration in 2021 has not been canceled. Parades, on the other hand, will not be permitted. Their straightforward messaging: “Mardi Gras is not canceled, just different.”
In news that was first posted on the city’s website and then explained at a subsequent press conference, New Orleans cannot cancel Mardi Gras because the holiday is, at its roots, a religious celebration that all are free to observe.
In 2021, Mardi Gras week falls in mid-February. The carnival season leads up to Fat Tuesday, which is February 16 -- and the day before Ash Wednesday (February 17), which is the start of the 40 day season of Lent.
In a typical year, dozens of parades are staged in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, especially on the preceding weekend. But as the city further noted, the holiday cannot be celebrated as it has in the past. Parades of any kind will not be permitted this year because large gatherings have proven to be super spreader events of the COVID-19 virus.
“With COVID-19 cases increasing around the country, we will have to modify how to observe carnival season to be safe for everyone. Experts are predicting a ‘winter spike’ in cases this winter in December and January -- right when our carnival calendars get rolling,” the mayor’s office said in a prepared statement. “We have done an amazing job flattening the curve -- and hopefully it will stay that way through the winter -- but we are surrounded by hot spots and we don’t know what the future holds in store for us.”
This isn’t the first time carnival parades have been canceled. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune clarifies, parades weren't held during the Civil War, the Reconstruction era unrest in 1875, the yellow fever epidemic in 1879, or World War I or II. The last time parades were canceled was in 1979 due to a strike by the Police Department.
In an interesting twist, Cantrell’s office has also announced a request for community input and participation in continued planning efforts for Mardi Gras 2021 by soliciting ideas for how to safely celebrate the carnival season in New Orleans.
“The guidelines have to be followed as it relates to Mardi Gras 2021,” Cantrell said. “Especially since a COVID-19 vaccine will not be readily available until after Mardi Gras.”
All received input will be reviewed by the City's public safety and public health team for feasibility, safety, and other considerations. It will ultimately be used to inform the City's planning efforts about how to safely celebrate the carnival season in New Orleans.
It's good to know that the good times can still roll -- even if they will be a little different. For more inspiration, see all our New Orleans content here.