Get ready. Tuesday, February 21 is Mardi Gras.
Parades, floats, balls, beads, masks all have their roots in a living tradition in Southwest Louisiana where I grew up.
Oh there's plenty of revelry, all right. Lots of music, dancing and drinking. But from Church Point to Eunice to Mamou to Basile, Mardi Gras is about chicken gumbo and plenty of it.
Many aspects of the Mardi Gras celebration in L'Anse Maigre, a community north of Eunice are typical of other communities. Cultural Catholicism still binds the community together, and collecting ingredients for a communal gumbo remains central to their run. They work hard all year, but they also celebrate life abundantly because their faith teaches them that life has been redeemed and Mardi Gras provides the opportunity to embrace the totality of human life. Led by a flag-bearing capitaine, this colorful and noisy procession of masked and costumed men on horses and wagons go from house to house in the countryside asking for charity in return for a performance of dancing and buffoonery. The participants are earnestly employed chasing chickens, the most valued offering, and they pride themselves on their ability to collect enough "live chickens" to feed the entire community "free of charge."
If you don't want to make a chicken gumbo for yourself, Austin Chronicle reports that myriad restaurants are ready to heap mountains of food on your plate. It ain't called "Fat Tuesday" for nothing.