The ancient custom of Mardi Gras was brought to Louisiana by the French. Mardi Gras originated in Europe. Back in the year 1755 our French ancestors left Canada and the province of Acadia and were exiled to Louisiana. Once here, they joined other folks of French, Spanish, German and African decent, thus forming the diverse Cajun culture. Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in Louisiana got its start in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras Season or Carnival Season begins on or after the Epiphany (Twelfth night) and ends on the day before Ash Wednesday. The celebrations precede the 40 days of Catholic prayer and sacrifice known as Lent. From Brazil to Quebec City and New Orleans to Ireland and the UK, Mardi Gras is celebrated in a variety of fashions and even a variety of names. With at least 200 parades thoughout the state, you are guaranteed to “pass a good time” during Mardi Gras season. Our selection for discussion is Mardi Gras in Rural Louisiana. Commonly known as Courir du Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Run), the custom is carried on throughout south Louisiana.
The Courir du Marid Gras is celebrated in several rural communities in south and central Louisiana. The more popular and well known locations include Mamou, Eunice, Tee-Mamou/Iota, Church Point, Soileau, Basile and Elton. Pick your spot and head over there for fun like you have never imagined. Be there early as the festivitie start early in the morning. Get swept up in the moment and experience the feeling of being back in medieval times as you watch the procession go by.
Now let’s understand the process and procedure. Naturally the Mardi Gras Krewes or groups gather earlier in the year to plan their Courir. A “Capitaine” is chosen and the parade or procession route is mapped out. Before the initial run is made the home and business owners are informed that they are on the route. This gives them time to prepare to participate if they have chosen to. They realize that they will have a hundred or more visitors stopping by carrying on and reveling to beg for the items they need for their communal gumbo that evening. They do have a choice to participate or not but most are happy to so that the culture can be preserved.
Revelers participating are dressed in their homemade costumes. One of the things characteristic of the costume is the hat (capuchin) worn by most. It very closely resembles a dunce hat, tall and pointed. The hat is decorated in loud colors and sometimes sports long streamers and fringes. The attire, also very colorful, resembles pajamas. They are loose fitting and may be ornately finished. To complete the effect, the participant will hide his identity with a mask. This mask is also homemade and will be constructed with a variety of material choices. They will get out their hot glue guns and begin creating. One never know what they will end up with once they begin creating. Most will be using window screen to cover the face area to allow for unabscured view. The mask is created around this screen and finished using things such as feathers, yarn, hair, fabric and bias tape. Some add long beaks to the fronts. The masks vary from ornate yet subdued to wierd and scary looking. The idea is for the revelers to disguise themselves so well that they are not recognized as they make their way through the country.
The floatilla of pickup trucks, flatbed trailers pulled by tractors, horse trailers, SUVs, and trailers carrying live bands and porta potties is a site to see as the parade of sorts makes it way through the country side. Revelers who do not ride horses will be seen sitting on bails of hay on the trailers. Many groups even load up a chuck wagon on a flat bed trailer for a supply of food and drink. Several dozen horses with riders makes the procession even more interesting and fun to watch. Many horseback revelers will entertain you with the tricks and skills they can do while on horseback. The colorful costumes worn by the masked participants along with music, singing and horn blowing will set the scene and announce the visitation. Some communities have kept the tradition of the Mardi Gras song preserved for decades and sing loudly in unison in the French language. The words to the song can be found at the end of this story.
The Capitaine is to be respected and obeyed. He will take charge and make sure that things run smoothly. The Capitaine will approach the prospective participant and ask for donations of sausage, rice and most importantly a chicken for their gumbo. When he gets the consent from the home or business owner, he will raise his flag. This gives the signal to the Mardi Gras, as the revelers like to be called, to commence making the collection and to come onto the property. The brightly clad runners will then dance, sing and beg for coins, gumbo ingredients and hopefully even chase a live chicken. Yes, the high point of the whole celebration is whenever a homeowner will throw a live chicken into the air for the Mardi Gras to chase. The scene resembles football players making tackles or trying to recover a fumble. They run, fall, jump and scramble after the chicken, being careful not to harm it. It is truly a sight you will not soon forget.
In the mid afternoon time the parade of revelers take their collections and continue their journey toward the location where their communal gumbo will be held. The Mardi Gras will continue their celebration entertaining the spectators lining the route. Once the booty (goodies collected) are left at the site, the Mardi Gras will go home to rest-up for the gumbo event which will kick off around 7:00 p.m. The conculsion of the Mardi Gras Run is a festive party with music, gumbo and a dance. The unique costumes may even be judged for prizes.
The Courir du Mardi Gras is something that should be witnessed at least once in your life. Share in keeping the tradition alive. It is truly something you will enjoy and remember with a smile.
La Chason de Mardi Gras” (Mardi Gras Song) sung in French
“Capitaine, Capitaine, voyage ton flag! Allons se mettre dessus le chemin. Capitaine, Capitaine, voyage ton flag! Allons aller chez l’autre voisin.”
Translated: “Captain, Captain, wave your flag! Let’s take to the road. Captain, Captain, wave your flag. Let’s go to the other neighbors.”
For a schedule of the various Courir du Mardi Gras parades in south Louisiana click on the link below.