Krewes adapt to a pandemic Mardi Gras


Bushra Ahmad poses with paintings of her Mardi Gras costumes from past years. Despite missing the usual festivities of the Mardi Gras season, Ahmad sees the new, Covid-aware celebrations as examples of the city’s resilience. Photo credit: Michael Bauer

Rae Walberg

With Orleans Parish cancelling its parades for the first time since 1979, krewes and parade members have adopted socially-distanced ways of celebrating Mardi Gras.

Queen of Sparta Shannon Garrety, A’20, said that her krewe has been slow to change.

“I think every krewe is changing a lot this year, but it is really heartfelt by people in Sparta just because we’ve done it the same for so long,” Garrety said.

Formal events such as the ball tableau, which includes Carnival masks and a coronation ball— an event celebrating the transfers of royal power and introducing new members to the krewe—has been cancelled, leaving Garrity as queen for a second term.

Sparta member Bushra Ahmad, A’18, said that while most planned socially- distanced events have been cancelled, members continue to donate to their philanthropy and meet virtually.

According to Garrety, Sparta has relied on float lieutenants who regularly hang out with members on their float to plan individual celebrations.

Krewe of Iris member A’19 Mallory Cruz said that her krewe has also focused on individual floats.

“My float will do a Zoom call, and certain friend groups in the floats will have little virtual sunglasses decorating parties,” Cruz said.

In a non-pandemic year, Iris would formally celebrate with a ball that presents the krewe’s themes, and the members would get to meet the king and Cruz said. She is unaware if her krewe has organized any COVID-safe formal events though.

Ahmad, who is also in the Krewe of King Arthur, said that they are “keeping riders in the dark” due to lack of information.

“It’s almost like Mardi Gras has taken a hiatus in a physical sense,” Ahmad said.

While Ahmad said that she is disappointed with the cancellation of some Mardi Gras festivities, she believes it is worth the wait.

“With the safety of the city in mind, it really is the best solution,” Ahmad said. “You don’t want to put anyone you love at risk. It’s just not worth it.”

Both of Ahmad’s parents are immunocompromised, which has caused her to be more selective of work opportunities that might put her at higher risk for contracting the virus. For Ahmad, the financial inconsistencies have made it difficult to balance her krewes’ dues with the cost of living, but she said both krewes are switching dues over to the next year.

“Krewes that are very considerate of those finances for their members really have a special place in my heart because it makes you feel like the truth of Mardi Gras is in that krewe,” Ahmad said. “It’s about the people, it’s about the city and it’s about the tradition. It’s not about the money.”

Garrity and Cruz also said they agreed with the cancellation of Mardi Gras parades and festivities.

“I do feel like some part of what I expect my year to like and some part of myself is missing, but I know that there is nothing else that I can do about it,” Garrety said.

However, she said that she believes next year’s Mardi Gras celebrations will be “bigger and better.”

“Living in New Orleans, I think we kind of start to take that sort of community around Mardi Gras for granted, but given that we won’t have it this year, I think we will be all the more grateful for it next year,” Garrety said.

Due to the virus, Cruz said she anticipates that the culture of Mardi Gras is going to shift.

“I think people will be a little more cautious about how close they are standing to one another.”

With limited krewe-related events, Cruz plans on spending Mardi Gras in a costume at a king cake party with her family.

Ahmad said that she is also celebrating the season with king cake, reruns of past Mardi Gras parades and helping the little girl she babysits throw beads off of her balcony.

Despite an unorthodox Carnival season, Ahmad believes the city continues to be united and maintain high spirits through house floats and new modes of celebrating.

“I think it shows the resilience of the city,” Ahmad said. “Even if we can’t do that in a way that’s typical for us, we still find a way to do it to just lift everyone’s spirits, and Lord knows that we need it right now.”