All I first knew about Mardi Gras in high school was one of my friends had a pair of tan Timberland boots that came back a light gray because of everything he walked through in the French Quarter.

When he started elaborating further on the details of how they celebrated in New Orleans, it was truly a learning experience. A little more than 10 years later, I learned all on my own that Mardi Gras is a lot more tame other places along the Gulf Coast.

In Gulfport, a kids’ parade was my very first experience, which was like a glorified homecoming parade with beads. Downtown Ocean Springs’ charm made me realize how fun and classy Mardi Gras parades can be.

A couple of weeks later, I experienced the buzz and weirdness of the Pass parade in Pass Christian and a few days after that, rang in an unforgettable Fat Tuesday in a large way at the Biloxi parade.

It doesn’t take beads, beignets and red beans and rice to make you fall for carnival season. The Gulf Coast region is a completely different world to begin with, and the season of Mardi Gras amplifies its distinctive personality.

Down there, Christmas flows right into New Year’s, and the good times immediately roll into Mardi Gras balls that quickly lead to parade season. It’s as if every day is Railroad Festival season.

With lot of places down there, the French culture authenticates that electric vibe – it’s the kind of place where the name Jean could be pronounced as “Zhuhn” and the kind of place where a lot of people have a pretty good Louisiana story to tell.

Even though not as many people here are used to seeing alligators alongside the interstate or have a good etoufee recipe to share, most people know the taste of crawfish means springtime is nearly here to chase off what gets us down in the winter.

Milder temperatures aren’t here to stay yet, but an electric vibe and hopefully a new tradition are a just few days away.

Back in 2012, when Aberdeen celebrated its 175th anniversary, there was a different event each month to commemorate it. One Thursday in February that year, there was zydeco and jazz music pumping from the speakers underneath the downtown awnings, St. John’s Episcopal Church had its red beans and rice fundraiser, there was a free showing of the New Orleans-centered Disney movie “The Princess and Frog” at the Elkin Theatre, and the Cajun restaurant Le Roux was the center of the party.

For a few hours, Aberdeen lived out its own little version of Mardi Gras. Come Saturday, it’s trying it again, but on a completely different level.

For weeks, hype has been building about an afternoon Mardi Gras parade and an evening Mardi Gras ball, with proceeds benefiting the Friends of the Aberdeen Animal Shelter. Leading up to the events, the colors of the season have come up through downtown as purple, gold and green ribbons are wrapped around street signs and posts.

It’s great to drive to downtown and see a jester flag and the famous Louisiana colors draped across someone’s front porch and similar scenes at businesses.

Between the beaches, laid back attitude and uniqueness, the Gulf Coast is a different world in itself, and Mardi Gras is a big part of the culture setting it apart from anywhere else in the world.

It’s hard to find that vibe this far north, so good for you, Aberdeen, for giving it another shot. Like football, basketball and baseball programs, it takes a while to build dynasties, and cultures are the same way.

It’s hard to guess how many people will line Commerce Street during the day or don masks that night, but I hope this is a tradition that’ll be here to stay. With any kind of culture that truly sets a place apart, it takes creativity, energy and most importantly buy-in from the people.

The parade isn’t going to be the Mardi Gras that catches a bad connotation from the non-party crowds but more of the Mardi Gras that may change people’s perception of the season.

I’ll say it again that last year Monroe County celebrated Halloween and Christmas stronger than in several years of the past, so I hope trying something a little different will go just as well.

As the saying, “Throw me something mister,” goes this time of year down in New Orleans, throw some support towards something you may have never tried and find out for yourself what you think about it.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated an LSU national championship thanks to an Amory connection to its shining star quarterback, Joe Burrow, smack dab in the middle of Bulldog, Rebel and Crimson Tide country.

Life is still good and the good times keep rolling, so let’s celebrate not quite as lively as they do down in New Orleans.

Ray Van Dusen is the managing editor of the Monroe Journal. He can be reached at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.

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