As Mardi Gras approaches, what images automatically come to mind? Elaborate New Orleans floats, mountains of plastic beaded necklaces, and masquerade balls? While these beloved Creole traditions have never failed to entertain, New Orleans certainly does not have a monopoly on Fat Tuesday festivities. Case in point: the chicken-chasing, horse-riding, hell-raising, gumbo-making merriments of the Courir de Mardi Gras.
Small towns throughout Acadian Louisiana celebrate the season with days of traditional Cajun revelries that date back to the 1800s.
During the final days leading up to Lent, which is conventionally a season of penitence, small towns throughout southwestern Louisiana are packed with Courir de Mardi Gras participants. Known to locals as “The Chicken Run,” revelers don extravagant costumes and masks—everything from colorful fringe and animal antlers to wire mesh masks and capuchons, the tall pointy hats traditionally meant to mock French aristocratic headwear.
These decorated runners make their way from house to house, either on foot or horseback, “begging” the property owners for food items along the way to contribute to a communal gumbo. Just before the celebrators move on to the next house, chickens—either live, stuffed, or rubber—are thrown into the air, and the chicken-chasing begins. Seriously. These soaring chickens, traditionally the last ingredient added to the pot of gumbo, are the most coveted food item of the day.
Although this time-honored Cajun ritual may sound odd to some, we’d love to switch up our Mardi Gras traditions and give it a try. After all, you can’t eat plastic necklaces.
Here’s some gumbo variations to get you started. The rubber chicken is all you.