Based on most programs that cross my television screen, you'd think that Mardi Gras celebrations only take place in New Orleans, LA, maybe one or two celebrations in Mississippi and Alabama, and Carnival in Rio De Janiero. However, my personal experience with Mardi Gras when I was growing up was a much more ancient version of the celebration that pre-dates all of the storied and popular versions most people are familiar with.
I grew up on the outskirts of the small town of Oberlin, LA. The area is predominantly Catholic (I actually converted as an adult) and Cajun French. Due to these two factors, the Lenten season is a very cherished time of year. Just as cherished and celebrated is Mardi Gras. On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday each year, people from Oberlin and other surrounding communities like Soileau, Mamou, Elton, and Basile celebrate what is referred to as the Courir de Mardi Gras.
In these celebrations, people gather very early in the morning at a specific location. At these gatherings, revelers bring horses, wagons, and buggies, as well as a few trucks with trailers attached to them. These trailers hold everything from small children making the run as well as the occasional band. The trailers are also used for those riders who have celebrated a bit too much and can no longer stand on their own. Also on hand are large amounts of alcohol, primarily beer. Once all of the group has gathered and is ready to ride, the courir begins.
The riders set out, nearly all of them drinking and celebrating long before the sun comes up, and go from house to house in the rural areas surrounding Oberlin. This area is comprised primarily of rice and soybean farms. As the courir visits each home, they ask the homeowner for ingredients for a gumbo which is made at the end of the run. Some people give them money. Others give them rice, sausage, spices, or all sorts of other things, including beer. Live chickens are also given to the revelers, but they have to catch them first. The chicken is let loose in the yard and the members of the courir chase and catch it. Of course, since most of them are heavily inebriated, catching the chicken is very difficult. Heck, it's hard to catch a chicken when sober!
As a "thank you" to the people who donate to them, the revelers will dance and play for the person.
In the late afternoon, the courir finally make their way into town. The chickens are cleaned and a large gumbo is made for the community. Any and everyone is invited to this event.
While it might seem archaic and even violent to some people, the traditional Mardi Gras runs of Louisiana are cultural events that are to be cherished. These runs are one of the few remaining uniquely Cajun French traditions in Louisiana, as commercialism and discrimination have eaten away at most of the Cajun heritage of our fine state.
If you ever have the chance to witness a courir, I highly recommend that you take it. Be sure to invite me if you come down too!
Despite looking extremely cool, I have to admit that I'm a dork. I grew up on the outskirts of the small town of Oberlin, LA. I have since relocated to the Lake Charles, LA area.I love my home state … more
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The terms "Mardi Gras", "Mardi Gras season", and "Carnival season", in English, refer to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after the Epiphany and ending on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday" (in ethnic English tradition, Shrove Tuesday), referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which started on Ash Wednesday. Related popular practices were associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. Popular practices included wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. Similar expressions to Mardi Gras appear in other European languages sharing the Christian tradition. In English, the day is called Shrove Tuesday, associated with the religious requirement for confession before Lent begins.
In many areas, the term "Mardi Gras" has come to mean the whole period of activity related to the celebratory events, beyond just the single day. In some US cities, it is now called "Mardi Gras Day" or "Fat Tuesday". The season can be designated by the year, as in "Mardi Gras 2008". The festival season varies from city to city, as some traditions consider Mardi Gras the entire period between Epiphany or Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday. Others treat ...