Chasing Chickens for your Mardi Gras supper
Shawn Taylor | Contributor
Mardi Gras – for most Americans, the event is as much myth as tradition. The Catholic roots of the celebration have long been eclipsed in our popular culture by images of parade floats, beads, exhibitionism, and epic bouts of drinking for tourists and locals alike. For the rural Cajun communities of Louisiana, the Courir de Mardi Gras (or Mardi Gras Run) takes visitors back to a much earlier period. Just as festive, it involves live music, costumes, and drunken chicken chasing, and it is deeply rooted in local historical tradition.
The Courir is a modern recreation of a tradition similar to early Trick or Treating or Christmas Caroling, when groups would go door-to-door during religious festivals and offer small performances in exchange for charity. In the Cajun farming communities, Fat Tuesday would bring riders on horseback visiting the local farms to pick up ingredients donated for the huge communal feast of gumbo being prepared for that night. Because this was the last day of revelry before committing to a month of Lenten sobriety, the riders would often be singing, drinking, and dancing all the way.
For the modern Courir, groups gather early in the morning, many in traditional, primitive-style costumes made from rags, painted wire mesh, and other castoff ingredients. Most are already drinking by dawn (or still drinking from the night before). Horseback-mounted captains in purple capes maintain some order as wagons or tractor-drawn flatbeds pull zydeco bands to provide the soundtrack as dozens or even hundreds of fellow revelers follow along. Live music, drinking, dancing, and general celebration follow the group around the local countryside.
Just like their ancestors, marchers pause at a series of planned stops where local farmers have prepared their ‘donations,’ usually including a live chicken. Donating a chicken to the Courir is not a simple process - while an uncouth philistine might imagine someone handing over a quiet, already caged bird, locals know that the only proper offering is made by throwing the bird into the middle of the yard, or down from the barn roof, giving it a nice head start over the drunken crowd who will have to catch it before moving to the next stop.
The Courir does involve a few modern improvements on old traditions. While the marchers gather the symbolic ‘ingredients,’ local chefs are already hard at work at the parade’s end preparing giant, industrial sized vats of gumbo to feed the giant crowd at the end of the line. A huge feast, more drinking, live music, more dancing, and finally the sun sets on another Mardi Gras, with just enough time to rest and recover before the next one just a short year away.
Traditional Cajun Mardi Gras events are held in many communities in Louisiana. Most are welcoming to visitors and many have family friendly events. A good source of information to plan a Mardi Gras visit is the Acadia Parish event site at www.acadiatourism.org/events
Cover photo credit : coffee shop soulja