Happy Mardi Gras Day here in South Louisiana ! Many of my readers know about Mardi Gras in Mew Orleans but not about the celebration here in South Louisiana. It has a rich history and tradition that can be still be found in small towns in the country : it’s called
History of Cajun Mardi Gras and the Chicken Chase
When most people think Mardi Gras, they think parades, beads, and the French Quarter. For a large part of Louisiana, this isn’t the true Mardi Gras. We’re talking about local, Cajun Mardi Gras—complete with a chicken chase!
The Cajun Mardi Gras, traditionally known as Courir de Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday Run, has been a staple in southern Louisiana for hundreds (yes, hundreds) of years. The Courir de Mardi Gras is a cultural tradition dating back to Europe as early as the 17th century. It was then brought over to settlers in the Cajun country.
This celebration includes dancing, drinking, community cooking and celebration, and begging. The fête de la quémande, or feast of begging, is the highlight of Cajun Mardi Gras. Historically, male members of the medieval French community would ride around town on horseback, knocking on doors to ask for ingredients for the community meal. This has since changed, and in the more recent Courir de Mardi Gras celebrations, women and children are allowed to participate.
Back then, the poor residents would join together at the end of the long winter to beg for food from the extremely wealthy upper class, who would take pity and give them ingredients to create a community meal since they had little-to-no food. Now, thousands of people flock to towns across the Acadianas to participate in the feast of begging.
Starting in the early hours on Mardi Gras day, people will dress up in traditional Mardi Gras garb and ride horseback through the city, usually after a couple of beers. Residents will hand over spices, vegetables and flour. In return, it’s expected that the beggars sing, dance and play music. Occasionally, a homeowner would have a chicken to give to the riders.
That’s when the real fun begins. The owner will throw the live chicken into the crowd, and the riders scramble around in a drunken attempt to catch it with their bare hands. Some Courir de Mardi Gras celebrations have a chicken chase for the kids as well. You haven’t seen a crazier, more exciting time than at a community chicken chase.
Cajun Mardi Gras and the chicken chase are truly a “joie de vivre” (that’s French for celebration of life). It’s an experience that every local and tourist should have at least once in their life. The deeply-rooted history, culture and passion is truly alive and well in the Acadianas, and it’s a sense of community that seems lost in today’s busy, digital world.
Modern Day Chicken Run in Eunice,la.
Today, the Eunice Courir de Mardi Gras has more than 2,000 participants on the run, and it continues to increase each year. The run is always held on Mardi Gras day, but other carnival activities begin the Friday before Fat Tuesday. There’s a full schedule of last year’s Mardi Gras events in Eunice here.
Registration for this event is required, and participants must be 18 years or older. Registration is open at 6am at the Northwest Community Center. Early risers typically have a better chance of getting a seat on the trailer, but for those who are walking, the capitaine will keep you well-nourished with “boudin stops” along the way.
Why Fat Tuesday ?
Mardi Gras, (French: Fat Tuesday) festive day celebrated in France on Shrove Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday), which marks the close of the pre-Lenten season. The French name Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday, from the custom of using all the fats in the home before Lent in preparation for fasting and abstinence.