Of all the things Louisiana is famous for around the world, Mardi Gras is probably the number one association people make when they think of the boot-shaped state located at the mouth of the Mississippi River. While several different accounts continue to circulate about who celebrated this holiday first, many historians  and historical websites generally agree that it was born from a different Commonwealth holiday called “Pancake Day” or Shrove Tuesday. 
 
Explorer Pierre La Moyne discovered the mouth of the Mississippi River on such a Shrove Tuesday and named it Bayou De Mardi Gras. He named the actual place where he made landfall “Pointe De Mardi Gras.” His brother Jean Babtiste would later form a settlement in the crescent of the river, a hundred miles north of the mouth. He would name this settlement “Nouvelle Orleans.” In 1702, he also founded Mobile, Alabama as the first capital of French Louisiana.

Some records show that the first record of an organized Mardi Gras occurred the following year in Mobile, which was part of Louisiana’s territory at the time. This is why you find such French sounding destinations like “Dauphin Island” in or near  Mobile to this day. Back in New Orleans, slaves were escaping with the assistance of American Indians, who would collaborate together to become the first Mardi Gras Indians and start the ages old New Orleans tradition of “Les Flambeaux.” The New York Times would eventually write an incredible history of these “keepers of the light,” which can be found in their archives here. 

Cajun Courir de Mardi Gras Origins

Further west in South Louisiana, Cajun settlers celebrated their own version of Mardi Gras. It was less glamorous than its New Orleans counterpart, and mostly held in rural areas.

According to CODOFIL president and Louisiana folklorist Barry Ancelet, the traditional Cajun Mardi Gras, also known as the “courir de mardi gras” borrowed much of it’s origins from Catholic Medieval Europe, specifically the act of begging for food, which was at the time, an acceptable behavior. This act of going house to house and asking the head of the household for ingredients to prepare a later meal for the participants eventually led to the tradition of chasing chickens by the courir participants as a form of entertainment for the land owners. 
 
Though Mardi Gras season in Cajun Country became notably more quiet during the Great Depression and WWI/WWII, a revival began to surface in the 1960’s with a much needed boost from the increasing cultural significance of Cajun/French music, also in the midst of its own renaissance. Cajun artists like Floyd Sonnier, Herb Roe and Frances Pavy have dedicated a lot of their time to preserving the look of the original revelers in their substantive bodies of work. 

Visit South Louisiana
During Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras in Cajun Country will begin February 14th with events and parades throughout Acadiana popping up until Fat Tuesday, February 25th. If you are looking for a more family friendly, slower paced Mardi Gras, Acadiana has what you are looking for. Book an airboat swamp tour today by calling 337.228.7880.