Louisiana’s Cajun Mardi Gras Traditions: Chasing Chickens, Boat Parades and Zydeco Bands
Did you think Mardi Gras was all about beads, booze and boobs? Think again!
In Louisiana, Mardi Gras is very much a family-oriented holiday (for the locals at least… I guess some tourists do visit Bourbon Street in search of beads, booze, and… well, you know).
It is a celebration steeped in rich cultural tradition and history.
In Southwest Louisiana’s Acadian culture, Mardi Gras manifests a little differently than it does in New Orleans on north.
Courir de Mardi Gras- The Mardi Gras Run
In the heart of Cajun Country lies the small town of Eunice, LA. Instead of parades and beads, Fat Tuesday is the time for running and chickens. At 6 AM more than 2,000 runners show up adorned in capuchon dunce hats, wire mesh masks and colorfully frayed costumes for the annual run.
The day is full of drinking, dancing, tree climbing, joke telling and other such tom-foolery. Later on, everyone feasts on gumbo to the tune of live Cajun and Zydeco music.
A Lil’ Bit of History
Traditionally, people went from house to house seeking ingredients for a grand gumbo, which today is prepared downtown. You guessed it, chicken is a common ingredient in gumbo! Though no chicken are harmed during the running of the chickens!
This strange festival has roots in the medieval French carnival celebration ête de la quémande (“feast of begging”). Food was often scarce in winter months, so the poor would dress up in ridiculous parodies of the upper echelon attire and go door to door begging them for food. The aristocrats fed the hungry peasants on this day of celebration.
Other towns that celebrate Corrir de Mardi Gras are Mamou, Soileau, Gheens, Elton, Duralde, Choupic, and Basile. Don’t you just love those Cajun names!
On the Sunday before Mardi Gras, Eunice enjoys an old-fashioned boucherie or pig butchering, along with a cochon de lait (a suckling pig, often referring to a pig roast in general). The boucherie begins at 10 AM in front of city hall, when the hog is slaughtered and made into pork dishes like backbone stew, barbecue sandwiches, boudin (a sausage made with rice), hog head cheese, cracklins and fried pork rinds. The dishes are ready for tasting by 11:30 AM.
Boat Parades in St. Landry Parrish
Another type of parade exists in Cajun country…. The Boat Parade. In the fishing communities of the coastal parrishes (we have parrishes instead of counties in Louisiana), Mardi Gras evolved a bit differently than in New Orleans.
Boats that are otherwise normally used for alligator hunting in swamps or fishing for seafood in the Gulf of Mexico are decorated in Mardi Gras garb, and those riding the boats are often dressed in bathing suits instead of costumes.
The boat decor themes run the gamut, from a pirate ship to traditional Mardi Gras to an old paddle-wheel boat where the riders adorn Southern belle dresses.
Revelers, some of whom still speak the Cajun French dialect unique to this Acadian region, prepare communal gumbos and two-step to live Cajun and zydeco music.
I don’t know about you, but the next time I’m in Louisiana for Fat Tuesday, I think I’ll check out the Cajun Mardi Gras!
Have you experienced any fun and different Mardi Gras traditions?