The annual Friday night kick-off parade is back for this Mardi Gras season in Lafayette and will be incorporating various elements that recognize the parish’s bicentennial. 

Lafayette is celebrating 200 years since it was chartered by the Louisiana Legislature in 1823.

According to the Lafayette Parish bicentennial website, “about 18,000 Acadian refugees settled in the area after being expelled from Canada in 1755 when Great Britain captured the land from France. The Acadians married other native, French, Spanish, and African settlers, forming the many cultures that make up Lafayette Parish.”

The Lafayette Parish Bicentennial Kick-Off Parade will feature more than 21 floats filled with more than 400 riders along with 12 marching bands. 

Amongst the floats, there will be one known as the Heritage float that will be in the front of the parade and will represents the bicentennial celebration. 

According to Robert Kallam, one of the executive board directors of the Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association (GSW), there will be period-themed actors representing various cultures within Lafayette Parish. It will showcase aspects ranging from ethnicities to businesses and occupations.  

The Heritage float will also have balloon art that will display the bicentennial along with special throws for parade attendees. 

The Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission approached GSW with the idea since there would be events all year long for the bicentennial celebration and since it was a huge milestone for Lafayette Parish. 

“It’s gonna get a lot of people to know about the centennial,” Sami Parbhoo, the bicentennial coordinator said. “We’re trying to get the word out like ‘Hey, y’all, if y’all didn’t know, this is the bicentennial year.’” 

The sponsors include the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office of Tourism, the Bicentennial committee, One Acadiana, Haney Family Foundation, Beads Galore and Bead Busters and Float Rentals. 

The additional floats range from a group of main stakeholder floats that embody Lafayette Parish including the Bicentennial committee, the Lieutenant Governor’s office and Festival International de Louisiane. 

Also, other floats that show various community members such as Express Medical, which will consist of the medical community, One Acadiana, the regional chamber of commerce that will have various industry representatives that show different segments of the business community in Lafayette. 

All of the municipalities will be represented with a float along with local festivals like the frog and oyster festivals. The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics and the Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil & Gas Exposition (LAGCOE) will also have a float in the parade. 

According to Kallam, Mardi Gras is a major economic opportunity for the city, and last year, there were not as many people at the Friday night parade due to cold weather and rain. Last year’s theme focused on the people who were on the frontline helping and working with people with COVID-19. 

Parbhoo said this year’s kick-off parade is expected to be twice the size it was last year. 

“So our goal is to continue to build Mardi Gras, and, as part of that, we have to get the Friday night parade off the ground again and have people realize that it’s part of the Mardi Gras lineup and get people out there supporting it,” Kallam said. 

The parade will start at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 17. 

More events for this year’s bicentennial celebration can be found on the Lafayette Parish bicentennial website.