Pandemic-era Mardi Gras: No big crowds, but plenty of cake

Subdued_Mardi_Gras_75570 FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, file photo, Mondo Kayo parades down Chartres Street during Mardi Gras, in New Orleans. A subdued Carnival season begins Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, after the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the crowd-heavy balls and street parades that draw thousands of people to the city every year.
Subdued_Mardi_Gras_71426 FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, file photo, Bourbon Street is a sea of humanity on Mardi Gras day in New Orleans. A subdued Carnival season begins Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, after the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the crowd-heavy balls and street parades that draw thousands of people to the city every year.
Subdued_Mardi_Gras_52342 FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, file photo, float riders throw beads from a float with the theme "Beastly Kingdoms," in the Krewe of Orpheus parade on Napoleon Avenue during Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. A subdued Carnival season begins Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, after the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the crowd-heavy balls and street parades that draw thousands of people to the city every year.
Carnival_New_Orleans_28869 Peggy Scott Laborde and members of the Krewe of Oak toast Carnival as the Phunny Phorty Phellows start their 40th anniversary streetcar ride ushering in Carnival at the Willow Street car barn in New Orleans, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, riders socially distanced during their ride. Due to RTA regulations, bystanders were not allowed in the car barn. The Phellows are an historic Mardi Gras organization that first took to the streets in 1878 and ceased parading in 1898. The group was revived in 1981. They were known for their satirical parades and today's krewe members' costumes often reflect topical themes. One Carnival historian has referred to the PPP as the "Dessert of Carnival."
Twelfth_Night_New_Orleans_91210 People drive thru Twelfth Night in New Orleans on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Twelfth_Night_New_Orleans_91918 Father Dwight Hoeberechts blesses tambourines outside St. Augustine Catholic Church for the start of Twelfth Night in New Orleans on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The blessing was also part of this year's Big Chief Tootie Montana Day as proclaimed by the city of New Orleans.
Twelfth_Night_New_Orleans_91147 Father Dwight Hoeberechts blesses tambourines outside St. Augustine Catholic Church for the start of Twelfth Night in New Orleans on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The blessing was also part of this year's Big Chief Tootie Montana Day as proclaimed by the city of New Orleans.
Twelfth_Night_New_Orleans_77510 Darryl Montana, left, the son of the late Big Chief Allison "Tootie" Montana, joins others at the blessing of the tambourines outside St. Augustine Catholic Church for the start of Twelfth Night in New Orleans on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The blessing was also part of this year's Big Chief Tootie Montana Day as proclaimed by the city of New Orleans.
Twelfth_Night_New_Orleans_67110 Instead of flambeaux, members of the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc hold orange glow flashlights at their drive-thru parade in Behrman Memorial Park in Algiers for the start of Twelfth Night in New Orleans on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Twelfth_Night_New_Orleans_73625 A confetti canon is launched at the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc drive-thru parade in Behrman Memorial Park in Algiers for the start of Twelfth Night in New Orleans on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Twelfth_Night_15369 The Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc holds their drive-thru parade in Behrman Memorial Park in Algiers for the start of Twelfth Night in New Orleans on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A subdued Carnival season began Wednesday after the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the crowd-heavy balls and street parades that draw thousands of people to the city every year.

The Mardi Gras season always starts on Jan. 6 and ends on Fat Tuesday, which this year falls on Feb. 16. The season is usually marked by extravagant balls and parades where costumed riders throw trinkets to the mobs of people packed along the parade routes.

The coronavirus has put an end to those large events. But that has not stopped notoriously creative New Orleanians from coming up with socially distant ways to celebrate.

The Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc is a club that annually pays homage to the fallen French hero with a parade through the French Quarter on the official start of the Carnival season. This year, the krewe hosted a “Tableaux de Jeanne d’Arc,” where onlookers drove by various “tableaux” — a French term for “living pictures” — that included stations of costumed revelers sparring as knights, sharpening their swords and feasting at a grand fireplace with a pig roasting in the background.

“Life as usual is gone, so we had to look for different ways of doing things this year,” said Antoinette de Alteriis, one of the club’s captains.

The Phunny Phorty Phellows, a group that usually gathers Jan. 6 to mark the beginning of the season with a costumed party on a street car, also altered its plans. Usually throngs of people gather at the facility where the street car starts its journey to see the group off, but this year people were asked to disperse along the street car route and watch from there instead.

But people can still eat cake — king cake that is. The sweet cakes, which are decorated with the official Carnival colors of purple, green and gold, are only to be eaten starting on Jan.6.

In Mobile, Alabama, dozens of parades, balls and other events also have been canceled. The city on the Gulf of Mexico calls itself the birthplace of Mardi Gras since celebrations began there a few years earlier than in New Orleans.

Coastal Alabama typically begins its observances later in January than New Orleans, meaning the current coronavirus surge could be easing by the time events were set to start. But multiple organizations began announcing cancellations last month to protect the health of members and revelers.

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Associated Press journalist Stacey Plaisance contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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