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When Sunday is Tuesday: a Cajun Mardi Gras Alternative

Posted March 2, 2011 in Louisiana Travel

Riders with the Church Point courir de Mardi Gras on their merry spree. Yes, that man at the right is waving a chicken.
View Slideshow (8 Slides)

Riders with the Church Point courir de Mardi Gras on their merry spree. Yes, that man at the right is waving a chicken.

The hardest part about experiencing Mardi Gras in Cajun country is missing Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Anyway, that’s how I felt until I discovered how a little historical twist years back set up an opportunity to see a real deal “courir” in Cajun country and still be back in New Orleans for the big day itself.

The courir de Mardi Gras, or the running of the Mardi Gras, is the traditional celebration out on the Cajun prairie that sees bands of young men (and sometimes women) roving around on horses and wagons, collecting supplies for a giant, communal gumbo and partying hard along the way (see more in this earlier post).

It’s great fun, though I always dreaded missing Mardi Gras back home in New Orleans, which I count as the greatest day of the year. But the town of Church Point, between Lafayette and Eunice, offers an interesting work-around thanks to a courir traditionally held on the Sunday before Mardi Gras. Other towns that do up the courir also organize smaller runs in the days leading up to Fat Tuesday, but in Church Point the full-blown main event itself comes on Sunday.

I describe the reasons for this in more detail in Louisiana Rambles. But the short version boils down to a coin toss.

When old Cajun courir traditions were just beginning to see a revival in the middle of the last century the town fathers of two communities on the Acadian prairie recognized that by holding their respective courirs on different days they could each draw more people to their fledgling celebrations. Of course Tuesday was the most coveted day, it being Mardi Gras and all, so representatives from Mamou and Church Point agreed to let a coin toss determine which town got to claim it. I don’t know who called heads or tails, but Church Point ended up with its courir on Sunday.

That was in 1961, and 50 years later the tradition continues. The half-century anniversary in 2011 makes this an especially good year to check it out, and if you’ve never been to a courir the Church Point rendition is a fine example to experience. Things start early, as any Mardi Gras party should, and by 8 a.m. hundreds of costumed riders will depart from Church Point’s Saddle Tramp Club, just outside of downtown, for their extended jaunt through the countryside. They’ll stop at farms along the way to collect their gumbo fixings and put on the traditional, ritualized performances of the courir.

Competing for the live chickens farmers dispense to the visiting Mardi Gras revelers is always the highlight. It looks like some cross between a rugby kickoff and a Braveheart battle scene. Just check out the photos in the slideshow above.

The whole merry gang finds its way back to downtown Church Point by sometime in the early afternoon. The schedule says 1 p.m., but this isn’t like a train timetable here. A parade ensues, which is something like a Roman triumph, a circus procession and a buzzed Western fantasy rolled into one – in short, it’s Mardi Gras. A big downtown street party goes on all day with bands, dancing and eating and drinking galore and it stretches into the evening following the parade.

And when it’s all over, there are still two more days of Mardi Gras left to celebrate wherever you choose.

Church Point now has a richly detailed Mardi Gras Web site (audio alert: “the Mardi Gras song” plays automatically on launch). It lays out lots of helpful information, including schedules for events on the preceding days (beginning this Friday), the Sunday courir schedule itself and even maps, an incredibly helpful resource for finding your way to the action.

I highly recommend this wonderful celebration. Heck, people from New Orleans might even make it home to catch Bacchus afterward.