Decals of Bourbon Street and men playing soulful sounds on the saxophone lined the walls. Streamers and balloons were strung in the traditional colors of purple, gold and green, representing justice, power and faith. The smells of authentic jambalaya and gumbo filled the room as kids of all ages joined in the festivities.
On Saturday, Feb. 11, the Elting Memorial Library and its Teen Advisory Committee offered a free Mardi Gras party for the New Paltz community.
“The committee brainstormed on all possible events that would bring the community together. They wanted something that teens and young kids would both enjoy and also something that involved costumes,” said Linda Welles of the Board of Trustees of the library. She also serves as an advisor to the Teen Advisory Committee.
Welles said one of the committee’s most prominent goals was for people to learn about a culture within the United States. They tried to stick with traditions, using literature from the library to know what food to serve and which decorations to put up, Welles said.
New Paltz resident Nina Finazzo moved from Staten Island a year ago and this event was one of her first in town. She said she really got a great sense of community from the event.
“This is a really nice community and after this event, I can honestly say I call it my home. All types of [people from] the community showed up and that was really nice because in Staten Island, it’s very cliquey,” Finazzo said. “It’s great that they came up with something everyone could bring their kids to and enjoy and not ask anything in return.”
The event featured tastings of New Orleans gumbo (regular and vegetarian), jambalaya and hurricane drinks. Activities included a bead and candy toss, material to make colorful New Orleans masks a costume contest, Cajun music from musical group “Cleoma’s Ghost” and a traditional King Cake ceremony.
Claire McAllister, a member of the Teen Advisory Committee, said the King Cake ceremony was a highlight of the night.
In the ceremony, the cakes were made of cinnamon-filled dough in the shape of a hollow circle, topped with glaze, sprinkled with colored sugar and then a plastic baby is baked inside.
Traditionally, whoever received the baby in their piece of cake is supposed to buy the next King Cake, throw the next party or is regarded as the king or queen of the party.
A girl in a leopard printed costume found the baby in her piece of King Cake and was crowned queen of the night. The girl left the event, but re-appeared at the other end of the room on a staircase decorated to look like a float. She threw beads and candy to the crowd of children below.
“I definitely think the throwing stuff part was most successful. There were more little kids here than any other age group, so they definitely enjoyed themselves,” McAllister said. “They were jumping over each other and yelling with excitement, which was really funny to witness.”