As the sounds of an accordion and fiddle rise in the distance and the smell of roux fills the air, one wonders what this amazing time of year will bring for revelers. Friends, family and strangers stand shoulder to shoulder decked in their purple, green and gold, waving their hands in the air hoping to catch shiny plastic beads or maybe even a doubloon. Young and old dance to the sounds of old timey French music that they may not understand the words being sung, but you can tell they know how they feel, by the huge smiles on their faces. What could bring all these people together and create joy in all their hearts, Mardi Gras!
Mardi Gras can be summed up in three words, Food, Family and Culture. Mardi Gras in South Louisiana is not a day, it is a season. When the school systems give the students three days off to partake in the festivities, you know we take it seriously. From the crowded streets of New Orleans to the back roads of Acadiana, whether on a decorative float on a city street or on horseback chasing a chicken, Louisianans know how to celebrate Mardi Gras.
When you take a trip to a new city the locals will ask, did you see this or that “thing” that makes their city or town unique. In Louisiana we don’t ask that question, we ask have you eaten this or that. Whether it is the local favorite boudin, crawfish etouffee or jambalaya, we are proud of our cuisine and Mardi Gras season highlights that even more. People will gather around a large cast iron pot that is full of grandma’s famous gumbo or Dad’s award-winning jambalaya before or after attending the local Mardi Gras parade. Not sure what to eat, just ask the first Cajun you see, they will be honored to tell you where to get the best fried catfish, who makes the best boudin or who has the darkest tastiest Gumbo around. Nothing brings people together more in Louisiana than its world-famous food, and people travel, literally from all over the world, to experience Mardi Gras and its amazing eats.
Having had the opportunity to experience Mardi Gras from the feathered dancers of New Orleans to the caped cowboys of the prairie lands of Southwest Louisiana, I can tell you there is one thing that spans the length of I-10 from Mississippi to Texas. When you are in South Louisiana for Mardi Gras, you are family. It is one of the qualities that makes Cajun Country unique, we do not care where you call home, we just are glad you are here to celebrate our culture. A few years ago, my parents were in Lafayette celebrating the festivities and met a couple from England. The two couples hit it off and before the day was over my parents had brought their new friends back to their hometown, had a crawfish boil with our extended family and their new found friends. To this day, they remain in touch with their new family members and are already planning their next “family” reunion.
Mardi Gras is just one part of Louisiana’s long and diverse culture. It is part of who we are and how we uniquely separate ourselves from the rest of the world. It holds on tightly to the years gone past and pays tribute to the traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. It does not matter if you are pressed against a metal barricade on a crowded street yelling, “throw me something mister,” dressed up in a tux or ball gown attending one of the lavish Mardi Gras balls or standing in the middle of a field watching gown men dressed in hand sewn costumes chase a chicken across the countryside, you are experiencing the heart of who we are as a collective people.
So, this year, however you choose to celebrate Mardi Gras, we welcome you with open arms. Mardi Gras has no age requirement or limit for that matter, everyone has a place and everyone fits in. This year, maybe try something new, travel to a new community to experience how they celebrate this wonderful season. It will not take you long to make new friends and maybe even become part of a new family. If you are not from Louisiana and have never experienced Mardi Gras, take a couple days off and come experience the traditional Cajun Country Courirs de Mardi Gras, where hundreds of people ride horses and flatbed trailers as they make stops at various landowner’s homes to beg for chickens for their community gumbo. We promise you will make memories that will last a lifetime and experience what we Louisianans look forward to all year long. We invite you to come and experience our wonderful food, join our large and diverse family and truly partake in the wonderful culture that fills the great State of Louisiana.
A great source of information about local Mardi Gras events and happening is Lafayette Mardi Gras 2020.
And of course, don’t forget to check out our own Mardi Gras Survival Guide!