Every year, millions across the country don masks, feather boas and strands of cheap beads to celebrate Mardi Gras, the traditional last day and night of reverie before people make personal sacrifices in observation of Lent.
St. Marys is joining New Orleans, Mobile, Ala., and other cities this week in gearing up for the big festival.
One difference is in the timing: St. Marys doesn’t wait until “Fat Tuesday” to celebrate. As usual, St. Marys will hold all of its Mardi Gras activities on Saturday, three days before the big party happens in New Orleans.
In its 20th year, St. Marys’ Mardi Gras retains an atmosphere more friendly to families than the boozy, bawdy celebrations in larger cities. The “Out of This World” themed events will begin at 7 a.m. with a 5-kilometer “Color Run” in which runners are bombarded with brightly colored, nontoxic cornstarch powder to create a dazzling, colorful flurry at the finish line. There’s also a one-mile walk for those who don’t run.
As the race winds down and the contestants clean off, other events will begin. Starting at 9 a.m. vendors will open their booths along Osborne Street downtown. The booths will be home to various nonprofit organizations, food vendors selling festival favorites such as funnel cakes, and arts and crafts sellers.
“We expect over 100 vendors this year,” says Angela Wigger, Director of Tourism for St. Marys.
As for festival-goers, Wigger estimates that about 12,000 will visit the old section of the city that ends at the St. Marys River.
If she is correct, that will be a lot of people lining Osborne Street for the annual parade that steps off at 10 a.m. The parade usually lasts about an hour as floats slow to throw the traditional bead necklaces to clamoring children.
After the parade, visitors can make their way to the Great Camden County Chili Cook-Off, visit the center stage to see “America’s Got Talent” performer Chris McCarty, or just hang around and wait to see the 1 p.m. costumed pet parade.
Once the kids are worn out from the day’s activities the adults can attend the Formal Mardi Gras Ball at Jay’s British Pub at 7 p.m. The ball includes a costume contest for those who choose to participate in the “Out of this World” theme, a crowning of the 2014 Mardi Gras king and queen, and presentation of the Rosie Kelly Community Service Award for outstanding community service to St. Marys.
Tickets for the ball are $35 and can be purchased at Once Upon a Bookseller or at the St. Marys Welcome Center.
The events regularly draw people from as far as four hours away, Wigger said.
“It promises to be another great day of food and fun,” she said.
For more information, call the St. Marys Welcome Center at (912) 882-4000.