The glittering of Christmas lights and New Year’s Eve sparklers aren’t quite faded before Louisianans begin ramping up for the grandest and most exuberant party of the year. January 6th – The Epiphany and Twelfth Night – brings an official end to the Christmas season and ushers in a jubilant start to Carnival celebrations. Extravagant galas, decadent feasts, and flamboyant Mardi Gras parades are celebrated all across Louisiana, especially in New Orleans.But for more than 250 years, deep the heart of provincial Cajun Country, a more primitive Mardi Gras ritual occurs. The “Courir de Mardi Gras”. French for “The Running of the Mardi Gras”, this cultural spectacle has changed little since the first Acadians brought the custom with them in the 1750’s.
In the humble farming town of Church Point, the last conventional Courir de Mardi Gras takes place the Sunday Before Fat Tuesday. Hundreds of men (and only men – hence “last conventional”) dressed in fringed, multi-colored costume assemble on foot and on horseback in the cold dawn light. Many wear tall, pointed hats called capichons that match their costumes while others wear cowboy hats, making it easier to run it.
Before the sun begins to burn off the early morning dew, Le Capitan rounds up the Cajuns. Referred to as Mardi Gras, they traipse off to the first farm house looking to beg. They are in search of ingredients – namely a live chicken – for a last communal gumbo feast before Lenten fasting. The revelers are trailed by a live zydeco band complete with accordion, washboard and fiddle. Just behind the band are countless brightly painted, bead-ladened parade floats.
Le Capitan, draped in purple and gold, approaches the first house. On horseback, he sounds his horn, announcing the arrival of the Mardi Gras. He barters with the home owner, promising that the revelers will entertain and dance in exchange for a small gift for the feast.Permission granted, the masked Mardi Gras storm the yard, dancing and cheering as the band plays. They sneak and crawl through the onlooking crowd. They pull women into a dance and steal a kisses or a coins when Capitan isn’t looking. The farmer lobs a chicken into the yard, declaring they earned their prize. But first they have to catch it!
From one farm to the next, the embolden Cajuns rush headlong after their catch through fields, under porches, and over fences. Once caught, the runner reports to Capitan to hand over the chicken and put their name on the tally sheet.
Halfway through the run, everyone takes a breather and throws back another beer or two. Following the Chicken Run, the victorious Mardi Gras lead a New Orleans-worthy parade down the middle of Church Point.
This year’s Chicken Run takes place Sunday, February 11th. If you wish to join in the festivities, throw together a costume or check out Le Vieux Moulin. There, you can purchase an authentic handmade costume or order one from next year. For more information on the parade route or to register as a runner, visit the Chicken Run info page.
Getting there is easy. Church point is 20 minutes west of Lafayette and 45 minutes east of Lake Charles. Take Exit 87 on I-10 at Rayne and drive north on Hwy 35 for 12 miles.
If you have ever been or decide to go, share a picture of your costume along with this post!