A wave of purple, green and gold swept through Aiken on Saturday, and for a short time turned downtown into the French Quarter
More than 100 people decked out in masks, boas, hats, costumes and beads danced their way through town to the sounds of New Orleans jazz as part of the city’s first Second Line Parade to celebrate Mardi Gras.
The event was put on by the Aiken Downtown Development Association as a way to observe Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday.”
The festival, which is a staple of New Orleans, refers to the practice of indulging in rich, fatty foods on the last night before Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday.
“The first line is the part of the parade that has the parade permit and the brass band,” said Julia Stentz, events committee member. “The second line is the followers just dancing along to the music. For a jazz funeral, they’re the ones who start the partying after the body is in the tomb.”
Stentz told parade participants at the beginning of the route that “it’s a jazz funeral without a body.”
The parade began at the corner of Laurens Street and Park Avenue, made its way down the sidewalk of Laurens to Barnwell Avenue, then went back to Park Avenue, where it headed to Union Street and ended at the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum.
People of all ages grooved down the streets wearing clothes in the traditional colors of purple, green and gold, which symbolize justice, faith and power. Some carried parasols or scepters with the same colors.
Patrons of downtown businesses waved at the people in the parade as they passed, and many took pictures.
Tiajuana Cochnauer, of Aiken, sported a pair of purple pants made entirely from velvet bags that wrap a new bottle of Crown Royal whiskey. The pants were complete with gold, braided seams.
“I’ve been to New Orleans, and I thought it sounded like fun,” she said of the parade Saturday. “The weather was supposed to be nice, and I like to support downtown events.”
At the Visitors Center, participants were treated to king cake, another Mardi Gras staple, provided by La Dolce.
The circular cake, covered in icing and sprinkles in Mardi Gras colors, represents the routes the Wise Men took to confuse King Herrod as they sought Jesus on the night of his birth, Stentz said.
Per tradition, bakers around Louisiana place a small plastic baby inside the cake to represent the baby Jesus, Stentz said.
Saturday’s cakes did not have a baby in them.
Sophary and Bill Bernard enjoyed the parade and cake with their granddaughter, Katie Roberts.
“I was just explaining to her about the king cake,” Sophary said. “If you have the baby (in your piece), you’re supposed to have the party next year.”
Sophary and Bill had a tradition of going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans each year until Hurricane Katrina struck the city in fall 2005.
“I thought we’d come in and watch the parade,” Sophary said. “We didn’t know we’d come in and join the parade.”
Cloud was surprised by the participation in the event.
“Oh my gosh, there are no words,” she said. “We had no idea what to expect. This was kind of a ‘spur of the moment’ thing.”
Cloud said she and Stentz began talking in November about putting on the event, but didn’t start the “logistical planning” until the first of this year.
“She had beads, we found a box with some masks and things that we had stored, and we said, ‘Let’s just invite the community and see what happens,’” Cloud said. “We had no idea if we were gonna have 10 people, 20 people or 150 people.”
Cloud and Stentz said they plan to put on another event next Mardi Gras and are looking for volunteers. If you would like to become part of the Aiken Downtown Development Association’s Mardi Gras committee, email Cloud at firstname.lastname@example.org.