LAFAYETTE, LA — Starting this weekend, the star of Mardi Gras in Cajun country will be a chicken. That’s right, a chicken.
“I think what it’s most known for is when the homeowner gives a chicken, which is usually alive,” Lucius Fontenot, co-owner of Valcour Records, said with a laugh. “They say, ‘yeah, I’ll give you a chicken, but you have to chase it.’”
Why, you ask, do people chase a chicken as part of a Mardi Gras celebration?
It’s known as Cajun Mardi Gras, or the Courir de Mardi Gras, and it’s a tradition celebrated in areas of Louisiana such as Church Point, Eunice, Mamou, Iota, etc.
“The idea is that mass riders wearing costume ride on horse back, or some walk, around the countryside and beg for ingredients to make a community gumbo,” Fontenot said. “The costumes are similar in type to those of the Mardi Gras done in old France and they were a way of making fun of the aristocracy and the frilly way they dressed at court. Because they were peasants, all the costumes were homemade out of scraps.”
As a way of showing gratitude to the homeowner for donating an ingredient, the riders will dance, sing and play music. Of course the most important ingredient, the chicken, comes with a "catch."
“A homeowner will donate a chicken, but the tradition is that they give you a live chicken, and you have to catch it in order to use it in the community gumbo,” Fontenot said.
The chicken run or chase is the highlight of the day and draws visitors from all over the world.
“When the chicken is turned loose, it’s unreal,” Deputy Chief Varden Guillory, Eunice Police Department, explained “It becomes a competition. People will run through the mud and chase this chicken. It’s really a big deal. It’s a tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation.”
However, if you’re planning on making the trip to participate in this time-honored tradition, make sure to keep in mind that this is a community event.
“Listen to the people around you,” Fontenot added. “Everyone is nice and they want you to have a good time. We love visitors and we love to show off our culture if you pay attention. The important thing is to keep an open mind.”
To find listings for Courir de Mardi Gras events in the Lafayette and surrounding areas, click here.