In a couple of weeks, Downtown Dad and I will be taking a trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana to decorate and ride on floats wearing feathers and throwing beads. We will also be eating our weight in crawfish and gumbo, and chasing a chicken through the back roads on horseback.
Why would a couple of yankee Midwesterners be doing that you ask? Well, to the Cajuns of Southwest Louisiana, it’s obvious – Mardi Gras!
I know what you’re thinking. You’re picturing the New Orleans version of Carnivale. The one where millions of drunk and disorderly people jam Bourbon Street, and the overhanging balconies in various states of undress. Well, not that there won’t be a fair amount of drinking, and a maybe a little disorder, but the best part about celebrating Mardi Gras in Lake Charles is that it is the Cajun version, and therefore it has a family friendly atmosphere. Our kids are as much a part of the celebration as we are.
Our relationship with the Krewe de Charlie Sioux started many years ago, when we lived in Sioux City, Iowa. A sister city relationship was established which married parts of each city’s name and each region’s culture. Representative Sioux Cityans travel to Lake Charles each year to take part in and experience the lavish costumes and pageantry during Mardi Gras, then in July, a whole cadre of Cajuns show up in Sioux City to put on a glittery feathery gala, followed by a bead pelting parade, ending with regional free Saturday in the Park concert. It’s magical.
The Krewe de Charlie Sioux is one of over 50 Krewes licensed and registered with the City of Lake Charles. A Krewe elects royalty – a king and queen and at least 2 dukes and 2 duchesses, who preside over the meetings, and during the week leading up to Fat Tuesday, take part in several galas, and parades wearing the lavish costume and headpiece (some weighing 50 pounds or more!) designed especially for them according to that year’s theme. Downtown Dad and I, while we haven’t been King and Queen, have each had a chance to be Duke and Duchess.
We’ve even added some uniquely upper Midwest touches of our own by bringing Viking horn helmets into the mix. They were quickly adopted and dubbed bead catchers, allowing the wearer to use both hands for – what else – drinking!
New for DD and me this year will be a Cajun Chicken Run. The costume for this event is more humble and native than for the galas and parades, but still requires singing, dancing and of course drinking! This is a traditional rural Mardi Gras celebration, based on begging rituals – like trick or treating, except you don’t beg for candy, you beg for gumbo ingredients, namely a live chicken, which apparently must be chased and caught. Don’t worry, even though it’s fate used to be the gumbo pot once caught, nowadays the chicken’s role is mostly symbolic.
Over the years, we’ve established some deep friendships with the ever-changing cast of characters that make up our Krewe. We’ve also added some colorful terms to our vocabulary
- Pinch tail and suck head – to eat a crawfish Cajun style
- Mudbugs – another name for crawfish
- Throw me something mister – what you yell when you watch a parade
- Feather up – to prepare and be strapped into your Gala costume
- Coonass – the affectionate name for a Cajun to call another Cajun
- Boudin (boo dan) – hot spicy pork mixed with rice, stuffed in a sausage casing
- Chachere (sash er ay) – The Tony Chachere Cajun seasoning that’s on everything
- Laissez les bon temps rouler – (lay zay bon tom roolay) Let the good times roll!
Feathers, beads, fabulous food and fun can only mean one thing – Mardi Gras in Lake Charles!
Laissez les bon temps rouler!!!