Mardi Gras is seen as the ultimate party, a New Orleans tradition of feasting and carousing.
But here in Maine, where 10-foot high snow banks and 10-degree temperatures have been the norm this winter, we need something to celebrate too.
Thank goodness for the creative folks in Ogunquit, and their annual Mardi Gras celebration. Scheduled for Saturday, the event includes silly hats and masks, ax and fire juggling, outrageous costumes, and music.
In New Orleans, the Mardi Gras tradition is about eating big and partying loudly, just before settling in for the fasting and quiet of the Lenten season. Here in Maine, Mardi Gras is a way to take a break from shoveling and blow off some steam, and maybe that steam will melt some of the snow.
The event was started, according to Frances Reed at the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce, to attract folks to the beach town in winter. And to give locals “a reason to get out of their snowbound houses and stretch their legs a little.”
The highlight of the event is the afternoon parade down Main Street. Prior to the parade, there’s a hat and mask making party. For $5 you get ribbons and feathers and flowers and whatever else is handy, to help you fashion some over-the-top hats and masks.
People are also encouraged to bring wagons or garden carts, decked out like mini-floats.
The paraders usually stay on the sidewalks, to avoid stopping traffic. But drivers often stop anyway, Reed says, at the peculiar site of feather-clad, mask-wearing revelers parading down a Maine street in the middle of February.
Usually the parade attracts 200 to 300 people.
After the parade people gather at Old Village Inn to see the awarding of prizes for best hat, best costume, best wagon, etc.
Entertainment will include a juggling performance with fire and axes and knives before the parade, and a concert at night by husband and wife musical duo Harvey Reid and Joyce Andersen. The music will include a little of everything, with an emphasis on traditional music.
The parade and most activities will go on no matter how much snow or cold we get. But the juggling performance is weather permitting, as knives and axes are tricky enough to juggle, but add frozen fingers and it’s an accident waiting to happen.
The important thing to remember about Mardi Gras, which is “Fat Tuesday” in French, is that it’s a celebration of life’s excesses: Lots of food, lots of music, lots of laughs.
And at Maine Mardi Gras we can even do further than that: Lot’s of snow.
WHERE: Main Street, Ogunquit
HOW MUCH: Free for most events, $5 for admission and supplies at the hat and mask making party
11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Juggling performance, outside of Cornerstone, 228 Main St., Ogunquit. Includes fire, axes, knives and audience participation. Weather permitting.
Noon to 1 p.m.: Hat and mask-making party on Maine Street. For $5, people get all the supplies need to make a hat to wear in the parade, and to take home afterwards.
1 p.m.: Hat and mask parade, down Main Street to Old Village Inn. Paraders are encouraged to bring wagons decked out in a Mardi Gras theme. Prizes awarded
1:15 to 2:15 p.m.: Costume contest and award ceremony at Old Village Inn, 250 Main St. Refreshments.
2 to 5 p.m.: Wine tasting at Village Food Market, 230 Main St.
8 p.m.: Concert featuring Harvey Reid and Joyce Andersen, Dunaway Center, 23 School St. $15 in advance, $18 at the door, and $5 for students. Music includes rock, folk, pop, and swing. as well as Celtic jigs and old-time fiddle tunes.