~Saturday, February 4, 2023~
Waking up to the sound of people getting ready for the local Mardi Gras parade was a unique way to start the day. The fact we had a modestly decorated parade float parked next to our “campsite” should have prepared us for a loud morning. We immediately got into the spirit by tuning into a Mardi Gras station on Pandora.
Originally, our plan was to leave Ocean Springs today and make a 1 hour drive to Alabama to another Harvest Host location. By having an overnight stay in Alabama, it would have guaranteed adding another sticker on our travel map (we decided early on in our travels, that a sticker could only be added if we at least had an overnight stay, not a drive through). Once we got to the parade, we changed our mind and decided to stay another day. So we cancelled our reservation in Alabama and called the brewery to ask if we could stay another night. “Absolutely”, was the reply.
This year marks the 47th Elks Parade in Ocean Springs, which draws tens of thousands of people. drawing tens of thousands of people. We’re thrilled we have the opportunity to attend one of these parties while we’re in the South, and what better way to participate than hanging out with our new friends. Knowing the crowds would be insane and parking would be at a minimum, we decided to bike over, which in hindsight, was not the best decision with the lack of bike lanes or driving lanes wide enough to “share the road”. But we made it, meeting Shanda and Britny at the landmark funeral home on Front Beach Drive.
The energy was palpable with the kids full of energy, people decked out in their celebratory, glittery best and families claiming their territory to get the best views. We learned that this parade is much tamer and more family
oriented than what you would see in New Orleans. The floats particularly just outside the French Quarter are also more ornate, some taking as long as 50 weeks to make. The staple piece of the celebration itself is the purple, green and gold beaded necklaces that tourists and parade goers sport soon after Christmas up until Fat Tuesday. Each color symbolizes something: purple for justice, gold for power and green for faith. At least we didn’t have to flash a body part or two to get our very own; some were gently tossed, others thrown, so you really had to be on alert. But what is Mardi Gras all about, and why does it seem to be a bigger deal than Christmas in this part of the country? Contrary to popular belief, Mardi Gras did not begin in New Orleans. Its origins date back to medieval Europe, eventually settling in Mobile, Alabama. The term Mardi Gras is a French name for “Fat Tuesday”, the day before Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, the custom is using all the fats in the home before Lent in preparation for fasting and abstinence.
We had such a great time with Shanda and Britny’s families, and felt a part of the community at least for the day. After the 2-hour parade,
we were invited to Britny and Trey’s condominium. What a great location in walking distance to the adorable downtown of Ocean Springs. We left our bikes there, rounded up all their kiddos and walked into town to satisfy everyone’s craving for pizza. Plus, it gave us an opportunity to check out the scenic, artsy seaside town.
Definitely worth visiting again. Tom’s Extreme Pizzeria was an excellent choice and a place that Britny and Trey frequent on their visits. The kids had their table and we had ours. And we made sure to tip our waitress well for keeping all the orders straight.
It would have been fun to hang out a little longer with everyone, but we needed to get back to our Sadie girl. Plus, it was quite the full day and I think everyone was pretty tired anyway. Concerned about us riding back in the dark, Shanda and Chris offered to haul our bikes back to our campsite while their other friend gave us a lift in her car. We look forward to staying in touch with these 2 families, as it feels like we’ve known eachother way longer than 2 days. Special people for sure! We and the bikes made it back fine. Our Yeti cups, not so much. Mine was left at the parade. And for Jeff, while he was unloading the bikes, he had set his cup down on the ground, only to have Shanda’s friend’s SUV run over it. I swear that cup was doomed all day as Jeff kept misplacing it. I guess it was a sign of what was to come. We certainly learned a lesson that we shouldn’t have brought such nice cups to a chaotic party. Solo cups next time!