In our search for Mardi Gras celebrations that don't involve any over exposure, we discovered a long held rural tradition of Cajun Country, Courir de Mardi Gras, in Church Point. It translates to Fat Tuesday Run and traces its origins back to medieval France and the fête de la quémande or feast of begging.
Runners, known as Mardi Gras, ride horses or wagons through the countryside stopping to beg at farms for ingredients for a communal gumbo to be made after the run. The most common offering from the farmers is a chicken which then must be chased and captured by the Mardi Gras. (click here to find out more on Mardi Gras outside of New Orleans)
You've gotta watch the video to believe it...it's, well, just watch.
Several people told us that one of the most authentic of these Runs still in existence takes place the Sunday before Fat Tuesday in Church Point Louisiana, so we knew where we were headed.
As luck would have it, the starting point for the festivities, The Saddle Tramp Club, also serves as a campground, so we picked a spot, braved Saturday's torrential rains, and waited for the madness to ensue.
At 5 AM we were awoken by the beginnings of the revelry. Horses started making their presence known and whoops and hollers filled the early morning air. The staging area was already a sea of mud.
We watched curiously while the participants - who by tradition must be male, over 14 and in costume - registered, drank, saddled up, drank, greeted each other, drank, got geared up, drank, played music, drank, danced, and oh yeah, drank some more. Costumes are imperative to the tradition in that the identity of each Mardi Gras should be kept secret, allowing behavior that would never be acceptable any other day of the year. This also dates back to medieval times when costumes were used to mock the wealthy nobility during the fête.
After a couple hours of carousing, Le Capitaine and his co-capitaines organized the troops and prepared to lead the mounted participants out. In addition to the riders, wagons filled with more costumed Mardi Gras runners fell in line. The roads outside the Saddle Club were lined with hundreds more merry makers on floats but not actually participating in the run.
We weren't really sure how we were going to observe the proceedings, but during the mustering of the troops we finagled a spot on the beer wagon where we could view the madness from in amongst them all. This seemed like a great plan until Le Capitaine rode up to inform us that Veronica could not stay since strict tradition dictates that no women are allowed within the actual run.
Somewhat miffed but not about to buck tradition, her up-to-the knees-in-mud-dy self was escorted to the Queens Float with the pagent winners, which worked out fine since, by the time she had perfected her parade wave, they arrived at the first farm before the runners. She had a perfect view of the sneaking up, begging, and ultimately the chasing of the chickens.
It was absolute insanity, even a bit surreal, as the farmer tossed the bird in the air and costumed, inebriated Mardi Gras chased it all over. Much mud wallowing was involved.
After several stops with more chasing and wallowing, the entire procession made its way through town in the form of a parade. At this point it took on a feel of a typical Mardi Gras celebration as riders on floats threw beads and trinkets to the crowds lining the streets. Meanwhile the Run participants headed back to The Saddle Tramp Club for the gumbo.
Afterwards, the band fired up, Zydeco filled the air, and a good ol' fais do-do rollicked on into the night. (click here to find out more on Mardi Gras outside of New Orleans)
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com