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Arlington Celebrates Mardi Gras

The Seventh Annual Mardi Gras Parade wound down Clarendon Boulevard on the eve of Lent.

Arlingtonians lined Clarendon Boulevard Tuesday for the Seventh Annual Mardi Gras Parade.

"We live here, but I'm from New Orleans, so I just had to come out," said Don Francisco, who came with his son John, both dressed in 18th century Colonial attire for the occasion.

Children scrambled on the sidewalks to catch beads and candy tossed from about 18 floats sponsored by local businesses. The event was organized through the Clarendon Alliance, an association of businesses in the area.

The parade also featured a brigade of dogs accompanied by their owners. Sporting Venetian masks, Mike Mancini and Mike McMurtrie brought their dog, Roscoe, to participate. The costumes, they said, are part of the holiday's spirit.

"We just had the Venetian masks on our wall at home, but it fits with the celebration," Mancini said.

Police blocked off a section of the streets outside the Clarendon Metro station for the route. The Parade took some, like Mac Chatham, by surprise coming out of the station.

"I didn't even know what was going on," Chatham said as he watched the parade. "I just came out of the Metro and was surprised to see all these people. This is good for downtown Arlington. It gives us some excitement."

The first Mardi Gras Parade in Clarendon was organized by local businesswoman Rebecca Tax, who sat on the board of the Clarendon Alliance. Tax owns Lazy Sundae, an ice cream parlor on Wilson Boulevard.

"We wanted to create a fun event for families at a time of year when there isn't much happening," she said.

Tax marched in the parade along with friends from the ice cream parlor, each wearing a letter to spell out its name. The letters are now on the wall of the restaurant. Tax, who has worked in the Clarendon area since 1992, said putting the first parade together took a lot of knocking on doors.

"I went door to door to almost all of the businesses on Clarendon Boulevard, from Clarendon to Rosslyn," she said.

For the Clarendon Alliance, the parade is a sign of the neighborhood's growth and its vitality.

"It's about bringing life to the streets," said spokeswoman Roni Freeman.

Mardi Gras, French for "Fat Tuesday," is celebrated by millions worldwide. It marks the last, riotous party before the Christian observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent. It's origins, according to "The Golden Bough" by Sir James George Frazier, can be traced to the ancient Roman feast of Saturnalia, when slaves and masters are said to have traded places for one night. The first observance of Mardi Gras in the Americas took place in 1699, during a French expedition up the Mississippi River in what today is Louisiana. According to the Louisiana Board of Tourism, the spot on the banks of the river where the celebration took place — Point du Mardi Gras, 60 miles South of New Orleans— can still be found.