The flock of the One True Church of the Great Green Frog adorned sacred vestments of capes, masks and wizard’s caps, for their annual parade through Berkeley streets to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
The leader of the church’s local chapter, who gave his name as Rev. Jim, was dressed as a large green frog as he ceremoniously led the parade. “We hopped out here in solidarity with the Rev. Dan of New Orleans and the people of Brazil and now, I guess, Seattle,” he said referring to other cities where the church celebrates Mardi Gras Day or Fat Tuesday. “This is a traditional New Orleans style march.”
About 75 celebrants gathered at sunrise at Claremont Open Space above UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr Campus. Soon after they made their way to a co-op, whose location they did not disclose, where they had breakfast. And then, throwing strings of beads and yelling “Happy Mardi Gras” and “Hoppa-la-yah!” along Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, the parade wound its way to People’s Park.
To the best recollection of parade organizers, this is the fifth year Fat Tuesday has been celebrated in Berkeley by the One True Church of the Great Green Frog.
The parade stopped at People’s Park for lunch, which was served by costumed workers for Food Not Bombs. One server who would only identify himself as John Hoppa-Lu-Yah, said FNB serves food in the park every weekday afternoon.
After lunch the parade headed for the Berkeley Farmers Market on Derby Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Way where they listened to music provided by the Wild Buds: West Coast Mardi Gras Band and The Sons and Daughters of Orphius.
The entire parade route runs above the entombed Derby Creek. Along with smashing television sets and drinking not driving, celebrants advocated daylighting the creek, especially the section underneath People’s Park.
Costumed musicians played guitars and drums in the park while some revelers danced and others ate lunches of fruit and cauliflower salad and all enjoyed the first warm weather after a unusually cold winter.
One reveler Elisa Smith dressed as a space monkey, said she has be a participating in the parade for five years. “Happy Mardi Gras and hoppa-la-yah!” she said. “I wouldn’t miss this parade it’s always fun. Although it’s a little hot for this costume.”
The weather, in the high 60s, was welcomed by the group, many who said the parade usually takes place in the rain. The Rev. Jim said the rain was so bad the last two years he had to wear his salamander costume.
Mardi Gras, French for fat Tuesday, is an annual festival that marks the last day before Ash Wednesday, or the beginning of Lent, a Christian tradition that calls for 40 days of self denial and abstinence from merrymaking. Fat Tuesday is considered by many to be the last chance to “get it all out.”
Rev. Jim said the Great Green Frog Church was formed (although he’s not quite sure when) as a anecdote to organized groups from bible colleges that would preach to the New Orleans Mardi Gras revelers about their evil ways and demand repentance.
“The One True Church of the Great Green Frog is to counter their preaching,” he said. “We conducted a survey in Jackson Square on Mardi Gras Day and eight out of 10 revelers chose the frog over Jesus.”
Rev. Jim handed out green flyers that reminded readers that “the Christians will tell you Jesus walked on water, once, yet frogs do it every day.”
Five UC Berkeley police monitored the festivities from a respectful distance. Bicycle patrol officer Sean Aranas said there had been no incidents and the group seemed to be enjoying the day “and especially such a beautiful day,” he said.