Megan Boudreaux was feeling down three months ago after she learned that New Orleans wasn’t going to issue Mardi Gras parade permits for 2021 because of the pandemic.

The annual holiday wouldn’t be the same, she said, without the elaborate floats made months in advance of Fat Tuesday’s 50-plus parades.

“I decided, ‘Well, okay then, I’m going to decorate my house instead, pull some beads out of the attic and throw them at the neighbors,” said Boudreaux, 38, who works as an insurance agent in New Orleans.

She posted her idea on Twitter, thinking that she might inspire a few of her friends to do the same for this year’s Mardi Gras on Feb. 16.

“Last year, I made a bunch of origami flowers that kiddo and I passed out to people while we wandered around the French Quarter,” Boudreaux wrote on Nov. 17. “Tempted to continue the theme, turn the whole house into a flower float and pass out flowers to the neighbors while I drink all day.”

A few hours later, she posted an update:

“It’s decided. We’re doing this. Turn your house into a float and throw all the beads from your attic at your neighbors walking by. #mardigras2021.”

Boudreaux also posted her plans on her Facebook page. Two days later she had 1,000 new followers.

“Everyone loved the idea and wanted to jump in to make their own house floats,” she said. “A shop owner decided to call her theme Yardi Gras, and it just exploded from there.”

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is usually marked by giant parades, but the pandemic has reshaped the tradition to include eye-popping house decorations instead. (Reuters)

Boudreaux became the Mardi Gras house float coordinator overnight, she said. More than 3,000 homes are now decked out for the parade-at-home holiday, and local hip-hop and rap legend Big Freedia has signed on as grand marshal.

Boudreaux has a webpage, Krewe of House Floats, where people can keep up with it all and donate to the Greater New Orleans Foundation to help restaurant and hotel employees affected by the pandemic. With Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s recent announcement that all bars will be closed for Mardi Gras weekend, people in New Orleans are relieved to have an outlet for their celebratory spirit, she said.

“A lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into this. New Orleans doesn’t know how to do anything halfway,” noted Boudreaux, who lives in the city’s Algiers Point neighborhood near the French Quarter with her husband, Allen, and 6-year-old daughter, Adela.

Last year, the city’s Mardi Gras parades became coronavirus superspreader events when 1.5 million people showed up to party and made the city an early hot spot, Boudreaux said.

“Two weeks after Mardi Gras, we were all in lockdown,” she said.

There’s an online map so people can drive by the house floats, which “helps us to keep our traditions going but makes sure it’s safe,” she said.

Boudreaux spent weeks with a glue gun and paint brush to deck out her own house to resemble a ship she christened the USS House Float. Other themes include life-size dinosaurs, a tribute to “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek and a home decorated with a festive squid and octopus.

Zac Hobbs and his wife, Gail Gainey, are the creators of the squid display, which they titled “Mystic Moai and the Escape From Kraken Cove.”

“My wife is a biologist who loves squid, and I love tiki stuff, so we decided to tie them in together,” said Hobbs, 43, who works as a graphic designer — a perfect occupation, it turns out, for creating a Yardi Gras house float.

“It took us a month and a half to get it done, and we’ve been fighting windstorms and rain and had to rebuild a few things,” he said. “Our squid is now wearing a ‘Karate Kid’ headband because his head blew off in the wind.”

In the Bayou St. John neighborhood, speech pathologist Victoria Gilberti decided to make a monarch butterfly theme, while Meghan Davis, a military contractor in the Old Aurora community, went with a Queen of Hearts motif.

Davis, who supplemented her income as a Mardi Gras body painter before the pandemic, decided to use her talents to paint a giant deck of cards this year.

“It’s been really uplifting to see how many people are cheering us on,” Davis, 35, said. “Next year, I hope to be back to body painting, but this is a great way to celebrate without pouring our energy into the usual parades and marathon drinking.”

Fred and Kristina Teran decided to make a giant yellow rubber duck for their front porch to replicate one of the floats they had helped build for a past parade. Their theme this year is: “It’s Mardi Gras Time and We Don’t Give a Duck!”

“We were mourning the ability to embrace who we are when we heard about Krewe of House Floats and got to work,” said Fred Teran, 49, a doctor who works with covid-19 patients.

Many of the house floats have musical themes to tie in with the traditional Mardi Gras arts scene.

The St. Roch neighborhood decided on the theme “Roch and Roll,” and resident Tara Jill Ciccarone quickly went to work on her “Remember Rock and Roll Radio?” display.

Using her picket fence as a canvas, she scoured her house for whatever she could find to create gold records as float “wheels,” then crafted some boomboxes out of plastic foam. She finished up her house float with a few mannequins and twinkling lights.

“I was getting depressed about everything being shut down for the pandemic, so this has been a wonderful thing to be involved in,” Ciccarone, 45, said. “It’s all so organic and spontaneous — just like the spirit of New Orleans.”

Nicki Gilbert settled on a “Purple Rain” theme in honor of Prince, her favorite pop star. Her house was already painted purple, so she simply added some life-size cutouts, silver doves, shiny purple and gold trim and a bubble machine.

“It really pops in the evening when the music is blaring,” said Gilbert, 40, who works for an online concert venue.

“They can take our Mardi Gras parade away, but they can’t keep Mardi Gras from beating in our hearts,” she said.

In a normal year, Terri Bird and Kessinger Valente said they would dress up as Elvis and Priscilla Presley and join the crew of the Rolling Elvi on a parade route. Not to be deterred in the era of covid, they gave their house an Elvi theme instead.

“We usually have a crew of about 150 Elvi and a Priscilla float with around 30 Priscillas,” said Bird, 57, who works as a waitress in the French Quarter.

She and Valente now plan to throw pink Cadillac beads, fuzzy dice and Elvis voodoo dolls to people who come by their house this year.

“We have an attic filled with Mardi Gras ‘throws’ that we’ve collected over the years,” Bird said. “This is the perfect excuse to use them. I even have some blowup guitars to throw to people who are really dressed up in the spirit of Mardi Gras.”

Boudreaux said it would be fine with her if the Yardi Gras spirit continues year after year, even after regular festivities hopefully resume next February in New Orleans.

“At this point, it’s my baby,” she said. “We might not get thousands of house floats, but I think it will continue. My feeling is, ‘Why not pull out all the stops?’”

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