We were disheartened to say the least at the turnout at the annual Laurel Mardi Gras parade on Saturday evening. One local business owner took to social media decrying that it was Saturday afternoon and he had no idea the parade was even happening. Others chalked up the poor turnout to the expense of building floats and renting trailers.

Announcements for Laurel’s Mardi Gras parade, starting in January, appeared in this newspaper more than a half-dozen times — including a banner across the top of Saturday’s Page A1. The Jones County Chamber of Commerce distributes via email a 10-day forecast that included an announcement for the parade for weeks. Laurel Main Street has a mailing list, too.

But more than that, if Laurel wants to continue to be taken as a Mardi Gras city — and it should — the annual celebration on the calendar should become automatic. Mardi Gras in the Southeast is a treasure. From Mobile, across the Gulf Coast and to South Louisiana, the annual celebration is something to behold. The timing of Mardi Gras gets tricky because it is not beholden to a single day, but rather lines up with Lent and Easter. This year, Mardi Gras is very late in the season. Some years it coincides with Super Bowl Sunday. It just depends on the year.

For the past five years, Laurel has featured a Mardi Gras parade. It was run by a crook named George Kilgore for two years before his shenanigans were exposed by this newspaper. The parade was taken over by the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police with proceeds going toward important causes, including the annual Shop with a Cop program so that underprivileged children receive Christmas presents.

The FOP does a tremendous job because it is a colossal undertaking organizing a parade in Laurel. The Mardi Gras parade has many years to go before reaching the status of the annual Sertoma Christmas Parade, but residents can rest assured that the first Saturday of each December will feature the Christmas parade. It is that kind of automatic response that will be needed to keep the Mardi Gras parade strong. The FOP should continue to have the parade on the Saturday before Mardi Gras Tuesday — every year. Businesses in downtown and residents throughout the county should just know that the Saturday before Mardi Gras will be a parade. Make it automatic.

For the record, Mardi Gras 2020 will be Tuesday, Feb. 25. So get out the 2020 calendar and mark Saturday, Feb. 22, with gold, purple and green markers. The FOP should mark it, too, as parade day. Get started early.

Laurel can be a happening place in downtown, especially when a parade rolls. Let’s hope this year’s parade was just an anomaly.

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