A Tale of Two Courts: A Lundi Gras Celebration in Kenner’s Rivertown

Krewe of Zulu Clown

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A Tale of Two Courts: A Lundi Gras Celebration in Kenner's Rivertown

If you follow my social media, you know that I was in Louisiana this February and got a great behind-the-scenes look at most things Mardi Gras. From Lundi Gras on, I learned a lot about the culture that is definitely more diverse and rich than I had ever imagined. The celebrations were a fantastic blend of history, music, and community spirit that truly showcased the depth and vibrancy of Louisiana’s traditions.

What is Lundi Gras?

Lundi Gras is a significant event in the traditional Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) celebration, particularly prominent in cities like New Orleans. Occurring on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, Lundi Gras translates to “Fat Monday” in French, and it represents the day before Mardi Gras in the Carnival calendar.

Lundi Gras serves as the culmination of the Carnival season, which starts on January 6th (King’s Day or the Epiphany) and ends on the day before Ash Wednesday. This day is marked by various festivities, including parades, balls, and musical events, much like the rest of the Mardi Gras season but often with its own unique events and traditions.

Lundi Gras adds to the rich tapestry of Mardi Gras traditions by offering a family-friendly day of joy, community gathering, and cultural celebration leading into the climax of the Carnival period.

My Lundi Gras invitation

What I Witnessed

On a spirited Lundi Gras history and culture are interwoven in a vibrant display as the Royal Court of Argus met with Zulu Royalty in Kenner’s picturesque Rivertown Historic District. This unique gathering, embedded with tradition and effervescence, is more than a ceremony—it’s a bridge between the distinct heritages of New Orleans and Kenner, culminating upon the cusp of Mardi Gras.

As music fills the air, the festivity, embraced by locals and travelers alike, unfolds against the backdrop of history, a tableau vivant of kinship and revelry. But what draws the soul to this confluence of royal courts?

Distinctive Traditions and Attire

The Krewe of Zulu and the Krewe of Argus, while united in celebration, display starkly different traditions and attires that reflect their unique cultural backgrounds. The Zulu Krewe, known for their blackface makeup—a tribute to their founders who used this style as a cost-effective alternative to expensive masks 100 years ago—wearing elaborate feather headdresses and traditional grass skirts. In contrast, the Krewe of Argus members don regal robes and crowns, a nod to European carnival traditions.

Krewe of Zulu Court

The guards of each krewe, clad in coordinating costumes that signify their roles, enhance the regality of the procession, guarding the royalty with a display of ceremonial pomp.

Amid the vibrant celebrations, a particularly touching scene unfolds as little girls decked out in their fancy dresses and beautifully coiffed curls, gaze up at the queens with stars in their eyes. These young spectators, awestruck by the regal presence and elaborate attire of the court, symbolize the deep-rooted traditions and aspirations of the community.

Little Girls being encouraged by the Queen of Zulu

Teenage girls, dressed in coordinated outfits, also join the festivities, each step and smile preparing them for their potential future roles in these royal courts.

This is a far cry from the Mardi Gras often portrayed in popular media. Here, the celebration is a family affair, deeply embedded in local history and culture, so revered that schools close for an entire week to allow everyone, especially children, to immerse themselves fully in the festivities. This Lundi Gras event not only entertains but educates, passing on cherished traditions to the next generation.

Our lovely King Cake supplier

A Culinary Celebration

The exchange of gifts between the krewes is accompanied by a communal sharing of local delicacies that are as rich in flavor as they are in cultural significance. King cakes, vibrant and sugary, are a staple, with their hidden babies bringing luck to those who find them. The air fills with the aromas of hearty dishes like dirty rice, étouffée, and red beans and rice, each dish offering a taste of Louisiana’s culinary heritage.

My slice of King Cake - babies and all!

The Significance of Blackface in Zulu Tradition

A crucial and historically complex aspect of the Zulu appearance is their use of blackface makeup. This tradition dates back to the early 20th century when the Krewe’s founders, who could not afford traditional masks, used burnt cork to blacken their faces for the carnival.

Today, it serves as a powerful reminder of their humble beginnings and a symbol of pride in their African American heritage, despite the broader controversies surrounding blackface.

The Significance of Blackface in Zulu Tradition

Parade and Carnival Vibrancy

Post-ceremony, the festivities spill into the streets with a parade that showcases the unity and joy of the community. Children play a prominent role, marching alongside adults, waving from floats, and dancing to the rhythm of the bands.

The parade culminates in a lively carnival, where vendors sell crafts and traditional goods, food booths dish out local favorites, and live music encourages spirited dancing among attendees of all ages.

Lundi Gras Parade Marching Band

Community and Culture

This annual gathering does more than just precede Mardi Gras; it’s a vital part of Kenner’s cultural tapestry, promoting a sense of community and shared joy. The event not only celebrates the history and traditions of the Krewes but also fosters a spirit of inclusivity and mutual respect among all participants.

Kenner Festival

Final Thoughts

As the Lundi Gras festivities concluded, the spirit of celebration continued to resonate throughout town. The meeting of the Krewe of Zulu and Krewe of Argus is a profound display of cultural unity and communal joy, encapsulating the true essence of Mardi Gras. It’s a vivid reminder of the enduring power of tradition and the unifying force of celebration in Louisiana.

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