|Courir de Mardi Gras costumes|
The Courir de Mardi Gras, literally the “running of the Mardi Gras,” is still celebrated in rural South Louisiana, but is a far cry from what most people associate with Mardi Gras and Carnival. While the principle is the same, a last day of mischief and revelry before Lent, pageantry and balls are replaced by parody and pranksters.
Once a part of pre-Lenten festivities in most French parts of Louisiana in the 19th century, the Courir de Mardi Gras has ancient roots dating back to medieval rites of passage. During the festivities, a band of revelers don strange disguises and elaborate masks while taking to their horses. Riding wildly through the countryside, they go from farm to farm and beg for chickens or other ingredients for the communal pot of gumbo. They often sing loudly or play pranks until the farmer or homeowner produces something for the pot, usually a live chicken that must be caught. While each band includes an unmasked capitaine to keep the peace, the celebration is still a raucous one.
The tradition was all but forgotten in many parts of Louisiana, but in the mid-20th century it began to make a comeback both in an effort to preserve the Cajun culture and as an alternative to the huge crowds of tourists that descend on New Orleans. Mamou, Eunice, Church Point and a handful of other rural communities feature a Courir de Mardi Gras in the week or so prior to Lent. Always featured is a surplus of chicken and sausage gumbo, music and fun.