At certain festivities, these trinkets are rarely in sight. Instead, locals trade floats for horses, beads for bells, and rowdy streets for a day of revelry in rural areas. Still, different cultures within the parish celebrate Mardi Gras in their own unique way, establishing their own traditions.
In Opelousas, Grand Coteau, and Sunset a range of events take place including parades and zydeco dances. No blues here, just the upbeat sounds of accordions and fiddles coming from local zydeco musicians. In fact, one of the biggest players in the zydeco genre, Lil’ Nate, hosts the Opelousas Parade, Chicken Run, and Trail Ride. Trail rides are an important part of the Creole culture in St. Landry Parish, a place with a thriving equine industry. The modern cowboy, or girl, rides on horseback followed by a procession of eager participants in trailers, with food and music along the way.
Further west of this creole tradition, a century-old celebration takes place in Eunice, Louisiana, where men and women on horseback, parade around the countryside, chasing chickens for a gumbo. Participants wear handcrafted masks, tall hats, called capuchons, and very distinctive costumes. This celebration is part of a unique five-day festival beginning the Friday before Mardi Gras Day. The main event is the Courir de Mardi Gras, mentioned above, which includes traditional chicken chasing and silliness by revelers all day long. Throughout the weekend, experience the town’s Cajun traditions with Cajun music jam sessions, street dances, cooking demos, and a special Liberty Theatre show. Lil’ Mardi Gras, a run for children up to 14 years of age, is held Sunday, as well as an old time boucherie (hog butchering).
The Eunice Courir de Mardi Gras & Chicken Run (Fat Tuesday Run) dates back from when the town was first established in the late 19th century. The traditional rural Mardi Gras celebration is based on early begging rituals. Riders go from house to house soliciting “donations” of food items to culminate in a community-wide gumbo. The Courir was abandoned for a few years during World War II, but in 1946, a small band of riders revived the tradition. Today, the Eunice Courir de Mardi Gras has more than 2,000 participants (including both male and female) on the run, and it continues to increase each year. Registration is required for the adult and youth chicken runs.
In St. Landry Parish, everything is celebrated with cake—birthday cake, wedding cake, and, during Mardi Gras season, king cake! So who or what exactly are we honoring when we dive right into this carnival season treat? The king cake is made in observance of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night on which the three wise men came bearing gifts for the Christ Child. For locals, the 12 Days of Christmas couldn’t go by fast enough until the eve, January 6, marking the beginning of king cake season!
These brightly iced cakes can come as plain or elaborate as you’d like them to be, however, the purple, green, and gold colors are typically a staple of the cake’s decoration. Mostly found in bakeries and now most grocery stores, everyone has their own favorite recipe, with numerous fillings to choose from. What makes this sweet pastry even more interesting is that within each cake, a small plastic baby, which represents Jesus, is hidden in the dough. Feel free to partake in this fun tradition but be aware that the person who finds the king cake baby is responsible for providing the next cake!