Cajun Mardi Gras: Courir de Mardi Gras

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the last in a short series of guest posts from Harry Parsons, who I am excited to have posting about Mardi Gras history and tradition this year. Today, Carnival officially comes to a close with Mardi Gras, and tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, begins Lent. Harry is the content manager at Arcadia Publishing. While he spends most of his time being a bookworm, he enjoys anything outdoors especially if it involves the water.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When you think of Mardi Gras, what comes immediately to mind? If you’re like most people, you instantly picture sparkling multi-colored beads, colorful parades, and New Orleans brass band music, all enjoyed over a po’ boy or a steaming dish of jambalaya. However, while those are all unmistakable staples when it comes to a proper Fat Tuesday celebration, there’s a lot more to Mardi Gras than immediately meets the eye.

In Cajun Country, it’s all about Courir de Mardi Gras, instead – a time-honored rural tradition that takes Fat Tuesday to an entirely new level. What is Courir de Mardi Gras? Who celebrates it, what does a celebration entail, and when did the tradition first begin? Let’s take a look at closer look at the answers to all of those questions and many more.

What Is Courir de Mardi Gras?

Courir de Mardi Gras can be roughly translated as “run of Mardi Gras.” However, that “run” has absolutely nothing to do with attending a parade. It doesn’t involve waving your arms in the air in the hopes of catching a string of beads or another small gift as it’s flung from a float, either.

Courir de Mardi Gras finds participants temporarily transforming themselves into beggars. They dress up in costumes but not the colorfully elaborate ones that characterize a standard Mardi Gras celebration. Instead, it’s calico rags and homemade fringe all the way. Revelers also often wear hand-painted homemade masks constructed from wire mesh.

They then go door to door while dancing and drinking. (The end goal is to collect the ingredients for a nice big pot of gumbo.) They also sing and play music as they go. Musicians that play guitar, accordion, or fiddle often accompany the party of beggars. One reveler acts as a captain, keeping everyone in check and giving orders.

Courir de Mardi Gras begging parties can vary greatly in size. Some are only a few dozen people strong, while others can number in the hundreds. Many folks travel along the pre-planned route on foot, but some travel in trailers or wagons pulled by tractors or horses instead. The action (including the drinking) begins in the early morning and continues on through the day and evening.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What Are the Origins of Courir de Mardi Gras?

According to Cajun historians, Courir has its origins in rural medieval France. In Catholic medieval Europe, going begging from house to house was considered socially acceptable behavior, as most of the money in the land was in the hands of the wealthier, well-to-do citizens. When the poor would run short on food and resources in the winter, they’d gather and go door to door, asking for charity in exchange for a song or dance.

Organized begging parties were naturally common ways to celebrate special occasions, Mardi Gras included. This same custom is also the root of other traditional European customs like mumming, wassailing, or caroling.

Although the history of Mardi Gras in the United States is somewhat hazy, it’s generally accepted that both the holiday and many of the traditional ways to celebrate had become long-standing traditions by the mid-nineteenth century. Just as the urban sector of New Orleans with its Creole and Anglo-American elites developed traditions like balls, elaborate parades, and lavish parties, working class Cajun communities celebrated with the Courir.

Until World War II, the Courir de Mardi Gras celebration was mostly dominated by men. However, the 1950s would see organized bands of masked women also roaming the country in various regions. (After women entered the workforce during the war, it’s not surprising that they wanted to participate in other commonly male-dominated activities as well.)

Courir de Mardi Gras Today

Today, there are approximately 30 different versions of the Courir celebrated. However, they can typically be distinguished by the way the revelers travel. As touched on above, some travel completely on foot. Others ride horses or travel in wagons. A Courir group can be made up of all different sorts of people as well. Some groups are all male, while others are all female. Many, many groups are mixed gender. In recent years, groups made up entirely of children have also become common.

Some Courir celebrations are also distinguished by the use of whips to help maintain order among the travelers. (The whippings are not violent in any way.) Many scholars believe the whipping is a throwback to the pre-Christian Roman festival of Lupercalia which found participants gently whipping women, crop fields, and livestock as a type of fertility blessing. Some Courir traditions find participants willingly enduring their whippings while others call for attempts to take the whip away from the group’s captain.

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The Role of the Hosts

Of course, it’s only natural to wonder if the folks new to Courir de Mardi Gras know what to expect from the event. As a matter of fact, they do. Each stop on a Courir route is preplanned, and each host is almost always expecting the group to arrive. The captain of the group also gets the final okay from the host when they arrive and is also in charge of making sure the (by then) very drunk travelers don’t misbehave or damage their property.

As touched on above, each house traditionally gives the group an ingredient for a gumbo that will be made and enjoyed communally later on that night. Examples may include rice, carrots, okra, or other vegetables. However, the final ingredient is the most noteworthy, as well as the highlight of the celebration – a chicken, often a live one.

While the beggars collect the ingredients for the gumbo, the rest of the community enjoys a festival while they wait. Typical Courir de Mardi Gras festivals feature a bounty of delicious Cajun food – everything from boudin, to backbone stew, to succulent bayou crawfish, to pork cracklings. There is typically plenty of music, singing, dancing, crafts, and other popular forms of family-friendly fun to boot. Sounds like quite a way to celebrate!

The Fascinating History of the Krewes of Mardi Gras

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from a Harry Parsons, who I am excited to have posting this weekend/upcoming week to talk about Mardi Gras history and tradition, right at the height of the season. Harry is the content manager at Arcadia Publishing. While he spends most of his time being a bookworm, he enjoys anything outdoors especially if it involves the water.

The Fascinating History of the Krewes of Mardi Gras

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Can Mardi Gras really be considered complete without a parade that pulls out all the stops? After all, the colorful floats, glittering beads, and costumed revelers we’re all familiar with are a huge part of what set the tone of a truly unforgettable Mardi Gras celebration. Have you ever wondered who those revelers are or how they came to play that particular role in the festivities?

They aren’t just average, everyday folks or people who simply got lucky. They’re members of a Mardi Gras krewe, part of a time-honored tradition that has been around as long as Mardi Gras itself. Here we’ll take a closer look at the history and tradition of the krewes of Mardi Gras, as well as shine on a spotlight on some of the best known and most popular examples.

What Exactly Is a Krewe?

The term “krewe” refers to any organization or group of revelers that have come together to sponsor or otherwise host a Mardi Gras ball, parade, or another event. New Orleans sees about 60 of these events every year, each one of which exists because of a krewe. As far as how many krewes there are, New Orleans literally boasts multiple dozens of them with more springing up all the time. Each one represents a different sector of New Orleans society.

As is the case with most groups or organizations, each krewe also has its own set of rules, traditions, and values that bind them together. However, there are some similarities they all share. For instance, each krewe must host a parade that includes bands, floats, or both. Its members must also host a ball. Most importantly of all, Mardi Gras must be the primary theme and purpose for both. Each one of the Mardi Gras krewes is part of a larger organization called the Krewe of Krewes that was first formed in 1979.

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The Origins of the Mardi Gras Krewes

As touched on above, the Mardi Gras krewes are as old as Mardi Gras itself, and you quite simply don’t have one without the other. The origins of Mardi Gras itself go all the way back to medieval Europe.

As a tradition, it would spread through Rome and Venice before eventually reaching the French House of the Bourbons. It was here that the tradition of the “Boeuf Gras” (or “fatted calf”) would take root. That tradition would follow French settlers to America, setting the stage for the Mardi Gras we know and love today.

March 2, 1699 would see the explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrive at a particular 60-mile patch of land located just south of New Orleans. That year, March 2nd was also the eve of Mardi Gras, so the land was dubbed “Pointe du Mardi Gras” in acknowledgment of that fact. Bienville would also found the settlement then known as “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” (now Mobile) in 1702. The following year, that settlement would also host the very first official Mardi Gras celebration here in America.

A secret society known as the Masque de la Mobile, an early forerunner of the modern day krewes, was established in 1704. Although the Masque would disband in 1709, other similar groups would spring up to take its place. In 1718, New Orleans would officially be founded, a place where Mardi Gras was openly celebrated. In the 1740s the first Mardi Gras society balls would be established. By the 1830s, Mardi Gras would also be celebrated with the colorful parades and street processions we know and love today.

In 1856, six young natives hailing from Mobile would form the Mistick Krewe of Comus, named for John Milton’s hero of the same name. Comus would go down in history as the first official Mardi Gras krewe, a group that lent mystery and magic to the festivities with masked balls, glittering floats, and other celebratory events.

In 1870, the second krewe – known as the Twelfth Night Revelers – would appear with many others to follow over the years to come. Today, there are more than 60 active krewes and counting.

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A Look at a Few Famous Krewes

Many krewes are active throughout the year, and all have their own unique approaches to Mardi Gras. The following are just a few well-known examples:

Krewe of Cosmos-Calcasieu Parish’s First Merrymakers

Formed in 1951, this krewe was originally sponsored by the Fifty’s Club. Its first members were also all Fourth Degree Members of the Knights of Columbus. Today, the Krewe of Cosmos boasts 220 members, as well as a waiting list filled with hopeful potential members.

The group remains active throughout the calendar year and is well known for visiting nursing homes, as well as hosting a variety of membership events. They include but are not limited to a crawfish ball, a barbecue, and a Twelfth Night ball open to the public.

Krewe of Contraband

This krewe got its start in 1963 at a housewarming celebration. When local businessman Sammy Navarra mentioned wanting to found a krewe, Ernest C. Schindler promptly handed him a check, stating that he was its first member. Afterward, Navarra would invite over 150 business owners to join the krewe as well.

The Krewe of Contraband considers the honoring of women, especially the daughters and granddaughters of its members, to be its primary purpose. Any eligible descendant that has reached her 18th birthday may be chosen to serve on the Royal Court.

Krewe of Omega

This krewe was formed in 1970 by Joseph Moffett Jr. for the purpose of providing both youth and elderly citizens with meaningful social activities. It is also well known for giving out service awards to community members that go above and beyond to improve life for local people. Currently, the Krewe of Omega has 46 members, each of which is either a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity of Lake Charles or the spouse of a member.

Of course, the above are only a few of the many Mardi Gras krewes currently active today. Like the above examples, each features its own focus and represents a different slice of society. Each lends its own special touch to Mardi Gras as we know it today.

The Enduring Legacy of Black History

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from a Harry Parsons, who I am excited to have posting here for the first time. Harry is the content manager at Arcadia Publishing. While he spends most of his time being a bookworm, he enjoys anything outdoors especially if it involves the water.

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It’s time once again to celebrate Black History Month. Also known as National African American History Month, Black History Month is a month-long period during which we celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of African Americans everywhere.

America would quite simply not be the nation we know and love without the contributions of its black citizens, making a time to acknowledge that fact vitally important.

However, there’s a lot the average person might not know about Black History Month. When did it start and how did it come to be? What are the most important benefits of celebrating it and what are some of the best ways to participate if you’re so inclined? Here we’ll explore the enduring legacy of one of the most important periods of the year.

The Origins of Black History Month

Black History Month as we know it today has its origins in a previous event called Negro History Week. Negro History Week was established in 1926 and took place during the second week of February since that week coincided with the birthdates of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It was established by noted historian Carter G. Woodson.

The expansion of the event into a month-long celebration wouldn’t occur until 1976 when President Gerald R. Ford made the change. According to Ford, it was time for the country as a whole to really embrace the opportunity to honor its black citizens and their accomplishments, as both are all too often overlooked.

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The Benefits of Celebrating Black History Month

Of course, Black History Month has had its share of critics (both black and non-black) over the years, especially around the time of its establishment. Some people considered it unfair to set aside an entire month to the celebration of a single social group. Others argued that the celebration of black history should be an “all the time” affair and that limiting the event to only one month gave people permission to neglect the concept the rest of the year.

However, regardless of the objections or possible drawbacks associated with the concept of Black History Month, it’s clear that it does more good than harm. Black history is, in effect, American history, and no study of our great nation can be considered complete without it. The following are just a few of the many benefits of commemorating it:

  1. Celebrating properly honors historic members of the black community.

Celebrating Black History Month encourages us to commemorate, discuss, and contemplate numerous iconic members of the black community. Examples include civil rights leaders like Medgar Evers, gifted speakers like Frederick Douglass, and activists like Sojourner Truth. We already set aside special days or periods to honor American presidents, visionaries, and thinkers. Why not brave, inspiring members of the black community as well?

  1. Celebrating helps every new generation appreciate the privileges they enjoy.

Although it goes without saying that there’s still a lot still to be done when it comes to bettering race relations in America, it’s also worth noting just how much progress has already been made. Setting aside time to talk about the past and honor the people that have made change possible ensures that their sacrifices will never be taken for granted.

  1. Celebrating helps us shine a spotlight on the best parts of black culture.

Black History Month is an opportunity to highlight the very best of black culture, like inspirational leaders, artists, visionaries, teachers, and community pillars of all types. The accomplishments of African American carry global and national significance.

  1. Celebrating helps raise awareness in regards to important issues.

The topic of American history is a vast one, to be sure. That said, it’s not uncommon for important aspects of black history (like the civil rights movement) to be reduced to mere footnotes in the grand scheme of things. Black History Month gives everyone a chance to learn more about people, events, and places of which they may not have much awareness previously.

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Celebrating Black History Month in Style

Of course, deciding that it’s important to celebrate Black History Month is one thing. Deciding how to celebrate is another. The following ideas should give you some good food for thought.

  1. Start a discussion.

Consider celebrating Black History Month together as a family this year. Have each child and adult choose an iconic African-American person, organization, or group (i.e., the Negroes Baseball League or the Tuskegee Air Men) to study, honor, and research at the beginning of the month. Then get together at the end of the month to share everything you’ve all learned with one another.

  1. Plan a soul food feast.

Food is probably everyone’s favorite way to celebrate a special occasion. Why not make it a part of your Black History Month celebration as well? “Soul food” is a term that was coined in the 1960s to describe a cuisine based on the traditional West African diet. Common ingredients in soul food include sorghum, rice, okra, and more.

Consider learning more about the origins of soul food as a family and then preparing a feast to enjoy together. Dishes to focus on include but are not limited to collard greens, sweet potatoes, grits, cornbread, fried chicken, southern barbecue, and chicken and waffles.

  1. Feed your head.

Nothing beats reading when it comes to building a true appreciation for a given topic, and black history is no exception. Make it a point to read up on African American history this February with biographies about famous black figures, classic novels by and about black people, and so forth.

Alternatively, choose one or more regional history or local interest books that focus on black communities, neighborhoods, and local heroes in your own home town or area of origin. What better way to place what you’ve been learning in a context you can relate to?

At the end of the day, there are lots of ways you can honor and celebrate the contributions of African Americans this February. Just make sure you do celebrate. You’ll be glad you did.

Chewbaccus 2017

For those of you outside New Orleans: Chewbaccus is a Mardi Gras krewe (an organization that puts together a parade and/or ball during Carnival) that is sci-fi and fantasy themed—so lots of fun stuff with very nerdy twists.

What I love about Chewbaccus is that it’s not just incredibly nerdy (because that’s a given)–but I also really love that the floats and costumes are handmade. This year, Little Jedi wanted to know “where they get all this stuff.” Well darling–it’s all made from craft supplies, imagination, and lots of dedication. Never underestimate nerds with a plan and an abundance of craft stores nearby.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from this year’s parade:

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When Getting to School Is A Fight For Your Life

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Rose B. Fischer. I am incredibly honored to have her posting here in such an open, honest essay about her experiences. Please be aware that this post contains frank discussion of physical abuse.

(Content Warning: Descriptions of physical abuse.)

The little yellow bus—commonly called “the retard bus” by my peers–was my only way to get to school. My mother took the car to work with her at 5:45, and the “regular” bus didn’t have a wheelchair lift.

The little yellow bus pulled up at precisely 7:30 every weekday morning. It would honk once, idle for five minutes, and if I wasn’t outside by then, the driver would leave.

This was the mid-80s, well before the ADA, so I was lucky to have the little yellow bus at all.

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#WeekendCoffeeShare: It’s Moving!

weekend coffee share logo hosted at parttimemonsterblog.com

If we were having coffee, I’d advise you to sit a little bit away so as not to catch any of my flu germs–because yes, unfortunately, the flu has finally made its way to our house. I’m a bit of a sneezy, coughy, runny-nosed mess right now, so perhaps it’s best that we’re sharing our coffee virtually.

I would also tell you, over our virtual coffee, that you’re about to see some major changes where the weekend coffee share is concerned, because it’s getting a new home. Starting next week, the weekend coffee share will be hosted at Nerd in the Brain, and Emily will be taking over the week-to-week operations of the link-up.

It’s taken me a long time to make this decision and to commit to it. I’ve hung onto the link-up for a while now, though writing each week has taken a great deal of energy. The community is a vibrant and close-knit one, with far more readers and commenters than I imagined would be a part of this when I started the link-up in 2014. So part of me really wanted to hang on to this part of my little corner of the internet, this thing that I’ve built. But another part of me knows that it’s time to make a shift. My posts have become less compelling conversation than chatter about my week, and over the past few months I’ve become more and more lax about doing the things that keep the coffee share community close–answering comments and reading, commenting on, and sharing everyone else’s posts. In large part, this is because when I didn’t calculate how the coffee share would fit in with the content I wanted to run when I switched my blog over, and in large part, this is also because I’ve done this each week for a little more than 2 years now, and the routine has become overwhelming.

Of course, moving the weekend coffee share link up doesn’t mean that I won’t ever be writing coffee share posts anymore…It just means that I’m taking a bit of a backseat and becoming a participant rather than the sole person in charge of making and running the link-up. Emily has agreed to do that, and I think that she will do a fantastic job. Emily currently runs Three Things Thursday, another weekly link-up, and she also runs hosts challenges and give-aways at Nerd in the Brain so the link-up is in safe hands.  And I’ll be popping in and out, adding my own posts to the list on the weeks that I write one and blissfully free to read and share posts that you guys write.

The content here, at Part-Time Monster, is going to get louder and more political. In the face of DT’s presidency and the massive sociocultural and sociopolitical problems that we are facing, I can’t stay silent. Feminist Fridays will resume this week. You’ll also see me talking more about mental health, focusing on my ongoing problems with anxiety and depression. And you’ll also see me talking about books, films, and comics–because not only does art tell us things about our society, but art is good for us in times like these. Art is not just frivolity, though it certainly can be frivolous.

And so…This is goodbye but not goodbye. I’ll be here, talking about all sorts of stuff, and I’ll sometimes jump into the coffee share as a participant, but this is my last week hosting the coffee share. Starting 2/18, look for the weekend coffee share on Nerd in the Brain!  🙂

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