When we were first plotting out a route for the spring it didn’t occur to us that we’d be in Louisiana for Mardi Gras. Like most of the nation, for us Mardi Gras was just another Tuesday. Once we realized that our timing would put us there though we knew we had to go, preferably out deep in the Cajun/Acadian region from which Mardi Gras originates.
I won’t pretend to understand Mardi Gras, or where it comes from, though at least some of what we saw apparently dates from the Middle Ages when various guilds and small secret societies would celebrate, er, something? Some say it goes back to the feast of begging, in medieval France, but a good argument can be made that it’s much older than that. Whatever its origins, it’s insular enough that if you aren’t part of the culture, I don’t think you’ll ever really understand it. That won’t stop you from enjoying it though.
Part of what makes it complicated is that there are so many different ways people celebrate Mardi Gras. What you see in one place often bears no resemblance to what you see in another.
The only thing historians of Mardi Gras seem to agree upon is that at some point Mardi Gras became intertwined with the Catholic celebration of Lent. Mardi Gras became a celebration of excess in preparation for the deprivation of Lent. I think. Beads, heavy drinking and most of the other things we outsiders associate with Mardi Gras are apparently quite recent though, starting some time in the late 1940s, or ‘50s, or ‘60s, depending on who you ask.
The basis of most celebrations these days are the parades, huge floats full of people decorated with beads marching through towns, throwing out candy, toys and beads to those of us who gather to watch. We got beads, so many beads.
We attended two Mardi Gras celebrations, the first was a children’s parade in Lafayette. It wasn’t the best day for a parade, rain poured down just as it was about to get underway, but that didn’t stop anyone, including us.
We managed to make it back to the campground in time for the golf cart parade. Like I said, Mardi Gras is all about the parades, even when they’re small.
Before there were beads there was the Courir de Mardi Gras, which is Cajun French for “Fat Tuesday Run”. As with so many things in America over the last century, “run” morphed into “drive” and (probably) this is where the whole parade thing started. The biggest home of the old style “Courir” is in Mamou, where, apparently we might have seen Anthony Bourdain, but we decide to go to Iota for a Tee Mamou, or small mamou.
There was plenty of food and two stages with various Cajun bands.
Before the main run, or drive in this case, there was a children’s version that led up to stage for some dancing.
Then the main run started, costumed people descended on the downtown area, chasing chickens, dancing, and begging for loose change. There’s plenty of drunkenness, going on, but it’s not the chaos you might expect. There’s a Capitaine in charge of keeping people in line and he has a whip to back up whatever the rules are.