Cajun Mardi Gras - An Inside Look

In 1755, a large number of former French colonists who had been living in Canada were exiled to Louisiana. There they met with other French expatriates, as well as folks of Spanish, German, and African descent. The groups adapted to their new environment and local influences and eventually blended into what we now call the Cajun culture, widely known for its spicy food and rousing music.

Cajun Courir De Mardi Gras is an important part of the Cajun cultural heritage, and although the rest of the world is well versed in the urban incarnation of Mardi Gras – as practiced in New Orleans – Coastal Louisiana's rural Cajun Mardi Gras celebrations have remained largely unknown to outsiders until relatively recently. Cajun Courir De Mardi Gras traditions vary from community to community and are a family-oriented series of events in which Cajun traditions are celebrated and rejoiced all across Louisiana’s coast . They also reflect the strong conservative and innovative spirit of the Cajun people.

The History Of The Courir De Mardi Gras

Cajun Courir De Mardi Gras is the last day to party and have fun drinking or indulging in whatever you plan on giving up for Lent. They pay homage to the traditions of their ancestors by “running.” During Cajun Courir De Mardi Gras, runners go from house to house and ask permission to enter the yard of the home owner. They dance and entertain the owners and in exchange they ask for anything to contribute to the run, usually ingredients to make a gumbo at the end of the day (rice, chickens, sausage, flour, etc).

While New Orleans Mardi Gras is a giant parade, Cajun Courir De Mardi Gras was always meant to be small, with each little rural area having their own "run," consisting of a small acoustic bands and a handful of runners. Today's Cajun Courir De Mardi Gras runs range from very small runs like Tee Mamou (one small band and about 30 runners) to Eunice with over 5,000 runners. The bigger the Mardi Gras run becomes, the more the traditions get watered down and forgotten about, so if you are looking for an authentic Cajun experience, bigger may not always be the better option.

Chasing Chickens: A Cajun Tradition

Starting early on Fat Tuesday, hundreds or thousands (depending on the parish size) of runners gather in the center their town wearing colorful frayed costumes, masks made of wire mesh and pointy hats called "capuchons," for the annual Courir de Mardi Gras. From the center of town, residents typically climb on horses (or flatbed trucks) for a day-long adventure through the Cajun countryside. Traditionally, Cajun people went from house to house gathering ingredients for a grand gumbo fit for carnival. The runners will sing, dance and make a general spectacle to collect food. Sometimes, this gift comes in the form of a live chicken thrown into the field for participants on foot and horseback to chase. The result is less than orderly!

Photo Credit: AJC Gallery

 The tradition derives from medieval French Carnival, a time when rich and poor turned class on its head for a day. The peasants would wear ridiculous parodies of upper-class dress and go begging for food from the aristocrats. Food was lean in the deep winter months, and so the rich would relieve the hunger for at least a day. At the end of the day, the runners feast on gumbo and listen to traditional Zydeco and Cajun bands. The following day, however, takes a somber tone in respect of Lent. If the Courir de Mardi Gras does one thing, it's to make sure that runners have plenty to repent about!

Cajun Music and Food

Music plays an important part in the Cajun Mardi Gras celebration. "La Danse de Mardi Gras" is the standard, traditional song that you will hear thousands of times every Mardi Gras. It's a haunting melody that is also known as "the Cajun Mardi Gras song." The words to one verse are: "The Mardi Gras runners, they come from everywhere, they come once per year to ask charity to make a gumbo. Captain, wave your flag and invite the Mardi Gras runners to come beg for charity to make a big gumbo tonight."No Cajun Mardi Gras celebration is complete without a King Cake, also known as Twelfth Night Cake. This cake is actually sweetened yeast bread, usually baked in a ring shape. The cake is frosted with gold, green, and purple icing representing in order, power, faith, and justice. The traditional colors on the King Cake date back to 1872. They were taken from a prominent parade group, called a krewe. Although this cake is colorful and tasty, the real fun hides within the cake. The maker of each King Cake hides a token in the cake. The tokens used are a dried red bean or a figurine of a baby, representing the Christ child. When the cake is cut and shared, the finder of the hidden treasure is said to enjoy good luck for the coming year. The lucky recipient may also be expected to bake the King Cake or throw the Mardi Gras party for the following year.

Cajun Courir De Mardi Gras 2012 ParadeInformation

Find Your Favorite Spot Along Louisiana’s Coast

On February 21st, or Fat Tuesday, the day starts off early with the Krewe de Charlie Sioux Block Party. Make sure to arrive early to reserve your spot for the grand finale of Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras, the Krewe of Krewes Parade at 5:30 p.m. in downtown Lake Charles in the heart of Calcasieu Parish. If you’re not exhausted from all the celebrating, be sure to stop by the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu where the good times roll year-round at the museum featuring more than 250 complete costumes – making it the largest Mardi Gras costume display in the world! St. Mary Parish is also hosting a variety of parades which well known Krewes coming in to celebrate. This is a great opportunity to see some big names in a local setting. Food, drinks, live music and lots of entertaining will accompany all parades.

  • February 20 - Krewe of Adonis Parade - Morgan City - 7pm
  • February 21 - Baldwin Mardi Gras Parade - Baldwin - 11am
  • February 21 - Cypremort Point Parade - Cypremort Point - 1pm
  • February 21 - Krewe of Adonis Parade - Bayou Vista - 2pm
  • February 22 - Krewe of Galatea Parade - Morgan City - 2pm
  • February 23 - Krewe of Amani Parade - Patterson - 2pm
  • February 24 - All-Krewes Parade - Franklin - 1pm
  • February 24 - Krewe of Hephaestus Parade - Morgan City - 2pm

Photo Credits: http://www.southernliving.com/travel/south-central/wild-mamou-march-0040... https://floydsonnier.com/cart/proddetail.php?prod=teemamoumardigrasprint http://projects.ajc.com/gallery/view/travel/southeast/cajun-mardi-gras/3...

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