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New Orleans Celebrates Mardi Gras

In New Orleans, five months after Hurricane Katrina's devastation, the city is going ahead with its 150th year of celebrating Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” the day before the Christian period of fasting called Lent and this year it falls on February 28. Some had questioned the idea of devoting several days to parades and parties given the sad condition of the city, but most residents see it as a necessary part of the recovery process.

The good times are rolling once again on the streets of New Orleans, even if there are fewer parades and far fewer spectators than in years past. Although less than half of the city's pre-Katrina population has been able to return, most of the people who are here say going ahead with Mardi Gras is giving the city a much-needed morale boost.

Hotel owner Mike Valentino is among the local business leaders promoting this year's Mardi Gras. "It is part of who we are. It is more important that we have this event than not have the event. It will help the people who are displaced to get back quicker at the end of the day because it helps drive the economy that will help drive the recovery."

Part of what fuels criticism of the decision to go ahead with this year's Mardi Gras is the perception that it is just a wild party where people drink too much and lose their inhibitions.

But Mike Valentino says that is mainly for outsiders. Mardi Gras is something different for people who live here. "It is a religious celebration in its roots, but it is a celebration of family, of costuming, of frivolity and really community connectedness on a parade route. It is part of the fabric of who we are and what we are about," he told us. In fact, children make up a large part of the crowd all along the parade routes.

Jeannie Rivers came to the parade route with her father and three-year-old daughter, Abigail. "For us, it is a family affair. Normally all of us get together, myself, my three siblings, my father, my husband and now my three-year-old. She has been coming since she was born. The day after Christmas she started asking, 'When is Mardi Gras?' So, she has been ready to go since the day after Christmas."

"Happy Mardi Gras! Throw me something, Mister!" said Abigail, practicing for when a parade goes by.

Part of the fun for children of all ages is the sport of catching items thrown from the passing floats. And what do people do with all this loot?

They take it home to remind them of this year's fun, while they wait for next year's event.