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Biloxi bracing for a 2021 without Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras 2021
Mardi Gras 2021(Andres Fuentes)
Updated: Dec. 20, 2020 at 10:03 PM CST
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Health experts warn that it will take some time before we can return to normal lives after the pandemic and that has people re-thinking holidays, get-togethers and celebrations, including those scheduled in 2021.

While Biloxi hasn’t seen many years without a carnival season, industry leaders are bracing for a 2021 without Mardi Gras.

The last time the Gulf Coast Carnival Association did not roll down Biloxi streets, the United States was well into the Korean War. Since the 1951 absence, carnival went on in the coastal city for 69 years, including a small procession in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But the world’s latest crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, might end the almost 70 years of parties, parades and people - crowds of people.

“We have about 80,000 people that come out on parade day and throw their hands up to catch beads.” GCCA Executive Director Jennifer Schmidt said.

However, catching beads has been a concern when there’s also a risk of catching a deadly virus.

“You have to put the community first.” Schmidt said.

A quick look at past log books shows GCCA only canceled parades 18 times since 1908, and each one was related to either wartime efforts or economic recession. Those parades were canceled in the years 1909-1911, in 1919, from 1921-1924, from 1937-1945, and in 1951.

“Even after hurricanes, we have still found a way to pull together as a community,” said Schmidt.

However, organizers worry the current pandemic might cause Biloxi to forgo the 2021 festivities, especially with constantly changing mandates.

“I joke. I always say it’s kind of like being a yo-yo,” Schmidt said. “You go forward and then you back track. You go forward again and then you back track.”

Constant progression and regression takes a toll on a holiday that requires so much work in advance.

“As soon as Mardi Gras ends one year, we already start planning the next year,” Schmidt said.

GCCA officials said they’re busy considering the health and economic impacts of a 2021 season, while industry leaders involved in krewe events said they’re already taking hits.

“We have several parades through the weeks before Mardi Gras. Those are the public celebrations,” Paul Arguelles said. “What people don’t see are the private celebrations like the Mardi Gras balls.”

Arguelles is the co-owner of Details Event Planning, which organizes everything krewe parties need, from drapes to the centerpieces.

The pandemic has curbed all seven events his company was supposed to plan.

“(Krewe leaders) were all very nervous, ‘oh what are we going to do, what are we going to do.’” said Arguelles.

With next year etched away, focus is now on when the parties make a comeback.

“A lot of the leg work in the beginning is already done,” said Arguelles. “So when we do proceed with carnival season, all of the thought process is already done for a lot of those balls. So it wasn’t a waste of time.”

But, that time of fortune is not the same for other professions, like costume designers.

“I lose a year as far as income goes because I don’t get paid until it’s over.” Sheila Gray said.

Gray has created the costumes for GCCA and other South Mississippi carnival groups for more than 40 years.

Gray said she worked through the pandemic, and now sees her creations on mannequins instead of on carnival royalty.

“You work real hard this time of year on carnival stuff and then it’s not there,” said Gray. “So what are you going to do?”

Despite their situation, industry leaders said it’s best for everyone to be safe rather than sorry.

“We understand,” Arguelles said. “We’re not going to revolt and try to do these celebrations if it’s not the best for the public.”

And while next year’s festivities continue to be in limbo, it’s all hands on deck for when people can trade face masks for Mardi Gras masks.

“Carnival of 2022 will be the biggest celebration we’ve had in a long time.” Arguelles said.

Other parades that have also announced cancellations so far include the following:

North Bay Carnival Association, St.Martin/D’Iberville

Second Liners Marching Club, Biloxi

Krewe of Nereids, Waveland

St. Paul Carnival Association, Pass Christian

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