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Chasing Chickens: Celebrating the Courir de Mardi Gras Tradition

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Dennis Guidry/WWNO
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Vermilionville Courir de Mardi Gras.

Whenever you think of Mardi Gras, you probably think parades, floats and beads being thrown in the air, but there is another side of Mardi Gras that’s not as widely known outside of the Cajun and Creole cultures of Southwest Louisiana. It’s called, “Courir de Mardi Gras.”

Going door-to-door, dressed in disguise, singing old Cajun French songs, chasing chickens, and collecting ingredients for your gumbo are all a part of the Courir de Mardi Gras tradition.

“This goes back several generations, hundreds of years, and was originally done in Europe and then made its way through to Acadiana like a lot of the traditions that we have that are much more European in nature here in Southwest Louisiana,” said Brady McKellar, director of museum operations at the Vermilionville Historic Village in Lafayette.

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Credit Dennis Guidry/WWNO
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Vermilionville Courir de Mardi Gras.

Vermilionville hosted a public Courir de Mardi Gras run on Feb. 16, the week before Mardi Gras. McKellar said, traditionally, people participating in the run will dress up in regalia, including ragged, fringed costuming and pointed hats, called “capuchons.”

“They will basically parade their way through their town, and they’ll stop at certain people’s houses—in the original tradition, they would play pranks, or they would beg or they would dance or they would do small skits in order to earn various things that would be used to make food,” said McKellar. “Today, when we look at it, it’s primarily things that are used to make gumbo; you know, rice and onion, celery, depending on your tradition there could be a variety of different things in that gumbo.”

Another important aspect of the Courir is “La Chanson de Mardi Gras,” which is a song sung from house to house during the Courir.

“There’s a song, there’s a particular chant that they do as they go from house to house,” said McKellar. “There’s the Capitaine, who leads the group, and it’s sort of a call and response.”

McKellar said at this year’s Courir at Vermilionville, they taught the response section to guests, so that as the participants made their way through the village, they could participate in the song. He said the Courir “begging” culminates at the final home with a chicken chase, which symbolizes that home was responsible for providing the protein for the gumbo.

“It would be the job of the Mardi Gras to run around and chase and catch that chicken, which would then all of these ingredients be brought together and shared to make a very large gumbo that all the members of the community could then sample, eat and sort of celebrate the day together,” said McKellar.

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Credit Dennis Guidry/WWNO
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Vermilionville Courir de Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras, like many other traditions in Southern Louisiana, revolves around community. The importance of community in the Courir is no different.

“Here in Lafayette, we’re lucky,” said McKellar. “Like so many things in the Acadian culture and in the Cajun culture, it really is about celebrating that community. You know, it’s a big day, you get out and have fun but one of the key elements is about getting this group together to have a great time and go door to door engaging all the members of the community and then bringing everyone to celebrate with a meal.”

The annual Vermilionville Courir de Mardi Gras traditionally takes place on the Saturday before Mardi Gras and is open to the general public. Communities in Southwest Louisiana, such as Mamou and Eunice, hold Courir celebrations on Mardi Gras day.

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