Mardi Gras, the hedonistic festival before the advent of the Lenten season, typically brings to mind glass beads, parade floats, drunken revelers and an endless party flowing out onto the streets of New Orleans. Cajun style Mardi Gras, celebrated in the small, rural towns of Louisiana is a much different affair. At the center of country Mardi Gras is an event called the Courir de Mardi Gras (the Fat Tuesday Run). The Courir involves a lot running and of course, chickens.
Courir de Mardi Gras is derived from the Medieval French traditions of begging rituals in the same vein as Halloween trick-or-treaters, holiday wassailers, or the New Year’s Day mummers in Philadelphia. Courir de Mardi Gras participants dress up as colorful beggars. Traditional cajun Mardi Gras costumes consist of clothing covered in bright, calico fringe and tatters, colorful masks, or tall, conical hats called capuchons.
The wildly dressed band of celebrants are overseen by a capitaine (captain) who leads the group (some of whom are on foot and other on horseback), on a circuit from house to house to beg for all the
ingredients to cook a chicken gumbo. The capitaine does not don a mask, but rather wears a purple cape and is usually on horseback.
At each home, the capitaine waves a white flag and ask permission for the group to approach. If permission is granted the capitaine will ask the residents to contribute an ingredient, such as rice, vegetables, sausage or chicken to the group’s gumbo. The homes which donate chickens are where the celebration gets particularly wild. It is at these stops where the Courir (run) actually occurs. Live chickens or guinea fowl are released for the band of celebrants to chase down and catch. Traditionally, these live birds were a key ingredient being collected for the gumbo. Today, the chase is often just symbolic.
While on the property the revelers will thank the owners for their contribution with singing and dancing. Pranks and antics are commonly played. Music and drinking are both key parts of a cajun Mardi Gras. The musicians (usually includes a fiddle, guitar and an accordian) travel with the Courir de Mardi Gras group adding the overall atmosphere.
Being the last day before the fasting of Lent, many of these revelers begin drinking on Mardi Gras early in the morning and continue throughout the day. As the day wears on the capitaine will have to bark commands and even physically whip the unruly, drunken participants into order. The capitaine is the buffer between this inebriated hoard and the community.
The day will end with at a party back in town with a large pot of gumbo – large enough to feed all of the muddy, drunk and tired revelers.
Video of Courir de Mardi Gras Celebration
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