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Dance For a Chicken at a Cajun Country Mardi Gras

February 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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Mark Twain once wrote that a traveler “has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

On horseback and in flatbed trailers, participants and musicians sing, dance, and beg for chickens. (Credit: Terri Fensel)

On horseback and in flatbed trailers, participants and musicians sing, dance, and beg for chickens. (Credit: Terri Fensel)

Of the thousands of festivals throughout the U.S. and Canada, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink­—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy. The largest celebration occurs in New Orleans, but nearly every community from Pensacola, Florida, to Galveston, Texas, has its own version of the annual party.

Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you, including tons of family-style celebrations.

From rollicking Wrecks at Pensacola Beach to catching MoonPies in Mobile, communities all along the Gulf Coast have their own way of marking Mardi Gras season.

The revelry in New Orleans tends to grab the spotlight, but how about dancing for a chicken at a Cajun Country Courir de Gras?

When you see the word Cajun in front of just about anything, you know you’ve found something completely different. That’s certainly the case with Cajun Country Mardi Gras!

Commenting on whether Cajun Country Mardi Gras is better than the carnival-style Mardi Gras that New Orleans is known for, is beyond the scope of this article but it is definitely unique and worth a trip to Acadiana.

Traditionally known as Courir de Mardi Gras, festivities occur in towns throughout Cajun Country. Rooted in French medieval history, the Courir de Mardi Gras has many rituals that come together in a celebration on Fat Tuesday (this year March 4).

A highlight of “the run” is when a homeowner throws a chicken out to the riders, who then chase and try to capture it for the gumbo. (Source: cnn.com)

A highlight of “the run” is when a homeowner throws a chicken out to the riders, who then chase and try to capture it for the gumbo. (Source: cnn.com)

The Courir which literally means “the run” is led by the capitaine of the Mardi Gras. Costumed and masked participants on horseback, foot, or trailer make their way from home to home in the countryside performing another ancient ritual: begging. Yes, begging!

The revelers sing, dance, and “collect” different ingredients for the town gumbo at a celebration later that night.

The last ingredient, and the highlight of the entire celebration, is the chicken that they chase after  and catch with their bare hands.
Once the team has chased enough chickens to fill enough pots to feed the town, the gumbo feast is on. Dancing, singing, and a bit of drinking ensue.

In addition to the run and chicken dance, you’ll see colorful costumes, hear the traditional Cajun Country Mardi Gras music and taste authentic Cajun cooking.

Each town’s Courir de Gras is special and has a unique twist. In rural towns and communities like Mamou, Iota, Elton, Church Point, Faquetaigue, and Soileau, you’ll find food and events more Cajun than the names of the towns.

One of the more colorful “Courir de Mardis Gras” is found in the town of Mamou. As Evangeline Parish native Junior Thibodeaux says in his Acadian lilt, “MAH-moo? Mamou is Mardi Gras.”

In Mamou, more than 100 local men, ages 16 to 60, ride house to house on horseback in lively garb, just like their fathers and their fathers’ fathers did decades before. As the tradition goes, rider captains cloaked in purple capes lead the horsemen on a rural pilgrimage collecting ingredients for the community gumbo.

As Thibodeaux says, it is a time-honored tradition, and with the global world moving away from local customs, there’s nothing quite like the Cajun Courir.

Costumed and masked participants on horseback, foot, or trailer make their way from home to home in the countryside. (Credit: gypsynester.com)

Costumed and masked participants on horseback, foot, or trailer make their way from home to home in the countryside. (Credit: gypsynester.com)

Ten miles south in Eunice, the fun starts on the Saturday before Mardi Gras at the Historic Liberty Theatre where the history and traditions of the Courir de Gras are explained. Then on Sunday, the family-friendly fun begins with music, crafts, and an old-time boucherie where you can eat just about every Cajun dish your heart desires, from boudin and cracklins to backbone stew.

Tap your feet to live music on Monday and then come back on Fat Tuesday when Eunice really gets cranking. There’s an entire festival happening downtown while the Courir de Mardi Gras collects the ingredient list for the gumbo.

Cajun Country Mardi Gras is a must for anyone seeking authentic Louisiana. Make plans now to attend this year’s festivities and participate in Courir de Mardi Gras March 4, 2014.

Wherever the festival, “catch what you can today,” as former Mobile Mardi Gras Queen Catherine Van Antwerp Boykin once said years ago. Because at midnight, the party’s over. “It’s time to put on your sackcloth and start repenting.”

Or, as Mark Twain wrote in Life on the Mississippi: “The grace-line between the worldly season and the holy one is reached.”

Please Note: This is part of a series on Louisiana Cuisine/Travel Ideas

Worth Pondering…

Mardi Gras is a thing that could hardly exist in the practical North….For the soul of it is the romantic, not the funny and the grotesque. Take away the romantic mysteries, the kings and knights and big-sounding titles, and Mardi Gras would die, down there in the South.

—Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (Harper & Brothers, 1896)

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