Referenced on True Detective and Treme, the little-known tradition is getting thrust into the spotlight

By Alex Heigl
Updated March 04, 2014 09:00 AM
Credit: David Simpson/St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission/AP

Happy Mardi Gras! Hopefully, you’re celebrating with plenty of fatty foods before the austerity of Lent, as per tradition.

But you could also dress up in a bizarre costume and parade from house to house with a chicken in celebration of the Courir de Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday Run,” a more obscure and slightly stranger tradition in parts of rural Louisiana.

The tradition, which has been obliquely referred to in episodes of the Louisiana-set HBO series True Detective and explicitly referred to in episodes of the network’s Treme, is part of Cajun life in Louisiana. It typically involves costumed men on horseback and foot playing music, drinking and chasing chickens in rural communities.

Cajun musician Wilson Savoy of the Pine Leaf Boys explains Courir de Mardi Gras (or “Cajun Mardi Gras“) thusly:

“The runners go from house to house and ask permission to enter the yard of the home owner. They dance and entertain the owners and in exchange they ask for anything to contribute to the run, usually ingredients to make a gumbo at the end of the day (rice, chickens, sausage, flour, etc.).”

“While New Orleans Mardi Gras is a giant parade, Cajun Mardi Gras was always meant to be small, each little rural area having their own ‘run,’ consisting of a small acoustic band and a handful of runners.”

Mardi Gras is one of the few exceptions to a Louisiana law that prohibits masks and hoods in public, which stems from the Ku Klux Klan’s more active days in the region.

While we’re on the topic, those pointy hats, called capuchons, are not a throwback to the KKK. They predate the organization by several hundred years, having been used in the earliest Mardi Gras celebrations in the French countryside to mock the then-fashionable coned hats of the French aristocracy.

It should be noted that Courir de Mardi Gras is a rather innocent celebration and is more about music and tradition than, um, creepy masks or murders, despite what True Detective would have you believe.

That said, if you want to give us a chicken for our end-of-day stew, we will not argue with you.

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