Coming with beads, masks and fun galore, Mardi Gras has paraded up on us once again. And, having thrilled spots around the world for years, two women decided it was time Aiken got its chance.
“My husband and I are from New Orleans,” said Julia Stentz, events committee member. “Carla Cloud, the Aiken Downtown Development Association executive director whom I met a few years ago, wanted to do something, but I was busy working. I recently retired, so we thought this would be a perfect time to do something concerning Mardi Gras.”
The Second Line Parade will take place on Saturday at 1:15 p.m. It will start at Park Avenue and Laurens Street, travel down to Barnwell Avenue and then circle back to Park Avenue.
“We want to start small and see how well it is received by the community,” Stentz said.
Mardi Gras, which is Tuesday, is often associated with outlandish and racy actions. It was that image that Cloud was familiar with, but, when Stentz taught ADDA and Cloud otherwise, they thought the event might not be such a bad idea.
“Unfortunately, the national media concentrates on the French Quarter for Mardi Gras, and that’s where the risqué events take place,” she said. “Most of Mardi Gras is family oriented and an all-day family event,” Stentz said.
Cloud believes that the community will respect the values of ADDA and the City and keep the fun clean.
The core colors of the day are purple, green and gold, with each holding its own meaning. Purple represents justice. Green is for faith, and gold stands for power.
These colors were picked by the Rex, king of Carnival, in 1892. Carnival is the period of feasting and celebration that starts on The Feast of the Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas, and ends on Mardi Gras, according to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras website.
People are also encouraged to bring handkerchiefs to wave because the parade is specifically a second line parade, Stentz said.
These parades are big in New Orleans. The first line holds the parade permit holders and brass band, while the second line contains the band followers.
According to Stentz, the second line features a second lining dance where people walk and twirl parasols and handkerchiefs.
King cakes are a pivotal part of the Mardi Gras tradition and will be served at the Aiken Visitor’s Center and Train Museum after the parade.
La Dolce in downtown Aiken is providing the treats.
Making these delights will be a first-time experience for the La Dolce bakers, said Kirstie Maczean, executive pastry chef.
“It’s kind of a fun thing to do, something different,” she said.
They will be prepping for 100 people.
The cakes hold religious symbolism as well, particularly with Jesus, according to Stentz. Every king cake is a circle to represent the routes the Wise Men took to confuse King Herrod, as they sought Jesus on the night of his birth, and, in Louisiana, residents took this whole meaning to another level. The bakers around the state place a little plastic baby inside to represent the baby Jesus himself.
“The reveler who finds the plastic baby in (his or her) piece of cake is expected to provide the next king cake,” Stentz said.
There will not be a plastic baby in the Aiken cake.
The Epiphany, also referred to as King’s Day, usually passes without the cake being served.
Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French and falls before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent. Since Lent is a time of moderation and sacrifice, Mardi Gras is often seen as the last day to really indulge, according to the American Catholic website.
Mardi Gras started in Louisiana in 1699. The day of the Mardi Gras celebration in France was the day that the French explorers came to the mouth of the Mississippi River. They marked the spot they landed on as Point du Mardi Gras.
On Feb. 24, 1857, the Krewe of Comus put on a parade and a ball to mark New Orleans’ first Mardi Gras celebration, according to the city’s Mardi Gras’ event website.
“My husband and I celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans during the many years we lived there,” Stentz said. “We still miss it.”
If the event goes well this year, ADDA might consider expanding it for next year.
“This is a celebration of life,” Cloud said. “It’s something to look forward to.”
ADDA posts daily trivia Mardi Gras questions on its official Facebook page, with the first person to answer correctly winning an ADDA gift bag.
For more information about the parade, call 649-2221 or visit www.downtownaiken.com.
Want to Go?
“Second Line” Parade
Saturday, 1:15 p.m.
Starts at corner of Park Avenue and Laurens Street
Call 649-2221 or visit www.downtownaiken.com
MCT photo For many, a New Orleans-style Mardi Gras is simply not complete without a King’s Cake.×
AP Photo A member of the Order of LaShe's throws a bag of goodies to the crowd during their Mardi Gras parade in downtown Mobile, Ala., on Feb. 5.×
MCT File Photo Andrew Payton, right, of Gulfport, holds his 3-year-old daughter Jayda, so she can get some beads in 2006.×