Laissez les bons temps rouler

Vicky BoydThe Cajun French have an expression, “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” which means “let the good times roll.” And nowhere do the good times roll more than during Mardi Gras, regardless of where the parades and parties are held.

Historically a Louisiana celebration, it has spread to towns in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and the Texas Gulf Coast.

Mardi Gras, known as Carnival in some countries, dates back centuries to when people would gorge themselves and celebrate excessively before Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.

During Lent, they would fast and eat only fish. Depending on the year, Mardi Gras also may coincide with when south Louisiana’s crawfish season is in full production.

For many rice producers, crawfish are an integral rotation and part of their farms’ portfolios.

Much like people elsewhere may hold family barbecues on the weekend, many Louisiana residents hold crawfish boils. Because crawfish are considered seafood, demand for the crustaceans also increases significantly during Lent.

The Mardi Gras tradition was brought to the New World in 1699 when French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed near what is now New Orleans, La.They held a small celebration on a spot they dubbed Point du Mardi Gras.

Over the years, Mardi Gras in many places has evolved from one day to more than 10 days of parades with ornately decorated floats, glittery costumes, masks or painted faces, and bead tossing. The over-indulgence and debauchery hasn’t been lost, either.

A handful of towns, including Eunice and Mamou, La., have held onto old-time Mardi Gras celebrations. Ornate and glitzy costumes are replaced with more traditional homemade fringed attire and rustic masks.

These towns hold a Courir de Mardi Gras, where participants on foot, on horseback or riding on trailers make a ceremonial procession to gather rice, onions and other food items to make a big pot of gumbo.

The main attraction involves chasing a live chicken, which can lead sometimes drunken revelers stumbling through mud and other entertaining obstacles. In olden days, the chicken also went into the gumbo.

Even in towns that have embraced a more modern Mardi Gras celebration, many of the parades and events are still designed to bring the community together.

In Lafayette, for example, the Krewe of Rio—the first parade of the 11-day Mardi Gras season—is known for its family friendly atmosphere.

Bedecked in sparkly costumes and wearing wigs, float riders throw pounds and pounds of beads to the screaming audience, some of whom hold up bulls-eye signs or come prepared with fishing bait nets.

Now that sounds like more fun than chasing a chicken through the mud – and a whole lot cleaner, too.