Down at the Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras in Louisiana is a season, not just a day, which means I’ve been able to celebrate it in several places: New Orleans, Lafayette and, on Fat Tuesday itself, in Eunice, the gateway to the Cajun prairie.

The Eunice parade was the most distinctive. Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans and bigger cities like Lafayette are pretty similar: People in a wide variety of costumes rolling through the streets on floats that look like they all came from the same float factory, dancing, drinking and throwing beads at people.

Mardi Gras in Eunice and some other small Cajun towns hews more closely to the Courir de Mardi Gras tradition, with elements that go back to medieval villages. Prairie Cajuns feature horses in their parades (bayou Cajuns relied more on their boats). Celebrants’ costumes feature lots of fringe, tall pointed hats, and masks with pointy noses attached. Some of the paraders engage in ritual begging, plunging into the crowd with their hands out, sometimes growling. The tradition says they are begging for food to be added to the community gumbo. Some of them carry live chickens. Their floats, like their costumes, are homemade and many of them have port-a-jons riding on them, for reasons I can't explain. The the folks in the parade also dance and drink and throw beads at people.

As they all say down here, Laissez les bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll.