Just like gumbo in Louisiana can differ region to region, Mardi Gras does too! The flamboyant parties in the French Quarter, the regal balls in Lake Charles, the family-friendly parades in Shreveport and then there is the Courir de Mardi Gras in central Louisiana’s Cajun Country.
This one-of-a-kind Mardi Gras celebration is older than the state itself. Even among born-and-bred Louisianians, not many have joined this centuries-old party, but I finally got to experience a courir for myself last year in St. Landry Parish.
History of the Courir de Mardi Gras Festival
The Courir de Mardi Gras festivities originated in medieval France and its many fêtes come together in a celebration on Fat Tuesday. The traditional courir—the French word for run—is led by the capitaine followed by costumed and masked participants on horseback, foot or trailer. They make their pilgrimage, singing and dancing to collect ingredients to make a communal gumbo, the highlight being the chicken that is chased and caught. Today, the Eunice Courir de Mardi Gras that I joined, has more than 2,000 participants, and it continues to increase each year.
The Fat Tuesday event started at 7 a.m. to check in with organizers and get the dated patches that are collectors’ items and badges of honor for longtime participants. The courir was more than 15 miles that day, among fellow runners, trailers and horseback riders. But with the beautiful central Louisiana countryside and dancing and laughing with new friends, it didn’t seem like such a trek, and a ride in one of the trailers offered a break. At designated stops, the capitaine released a chicken (the chasing was optional) and roadside spectators throughout the route cheered us on. About halfway supporters handed out fresh, hot boudin—this was my favorite part—and I likely ate a pound of the delicious, rice-stuffed sausage. I felt a little like a celebrity during the finale walk through the crowds in town (we followed Eunice’s conventional parade), and it all culminated in a well-earned bowl of gumbo. My sincere regards to the chickens.
I loved crossing off this bucket-list experience because I felt so rooted in the deep history and unique culture of my state. Whether you participate or just watch, and it’s a must for anyone seeking authentic #OnlyLouisiana! Visit St. Landry Parish for more information on their run and Louisiana’s Mardi Gras page for more events throughout the state.
4 Easy Steps to Make Your Own Courir De Mardi Gras Costume
Joining in? Here’s how to make your own courir costume! There are a myriad of designs and styles, below is how mine was made—and it got some compliments!
Start with a pair of scrubs or another combination of pants and a top. I used short-sleeved scrubs and layered some long sleeves under for warmth on the day-of. Louisiana weather is temperamental, so Mardi Gras day could be freezing or balmy!
- Prepare your scraps of fabric. Use a variety of colors and patterns or just one, it’s your choice but the crazier the better and have fun with it! Cut fabric 8-12 inches wide. Its length will depend on what part of the costume it will be put on (around the legs, chest, sleeve, etc.). Cut 1-inch-wide strips into the fabric, leaving an uncut border along one edge, to create the fringe effect. Using pinking shears can reduce fraying.
- Once your fabric is cut you can begin sewing. Determine the length of the strips of fringed fabric needed for each part of the costume. Sew along the top edge so that the fringe flies free. We kept the seat of the pants without added fabric for better mobility (our shirts covered it anyway).
- To make the tall, pointed hat known as a capuchon, form a piece of poster board into a cone, sized to fit around the top of your head, staple it closed to secure the shape. Trim the bottom to make a uniform flat edge and hot glue elastic or ribbon for a chin strap. Hot glue any leftover fabric strips or pieces up and around the hat until all the paper is covered.
- Don’t forget your mask! They are sold at a variety of stories in Eunice and pair the ensemble with your walking boots! You’re ready to run!