Travel

Chasing chickens on Fat Tuesday is a Mardi Gras tradition in Louisiana Cajun country

Chasing chickens is a highlight of Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras festivities in small-town Iowa, LA. (Photo credit: LakeCharles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Chasing chickens on Fat Tuesday is a highlight of Mardi Gras festivities in small-town Iowa, LA. (Photo credit: Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau)

While Metro Detroiters spend Fat Tuesday stuffing themselves with paczki — fat Polish donuts stuffed with jelly, creme or custard and calories — residents of Lake Charles, Louisiana, practice some interesting Mardi Gras customs of their own.

Unlike the often bawdy revelers in better-known New Orleans on the other side of the state, Lake Charles residents stage family-style parades and other child-friendly celebrations complete with pretty costumes and countless rounds of bead-tossing.

And out in the countryside, in small-town Iowa — pronounced I-oh-WAY — the community turns out to cheer and chase chickens, a time-honored, Cajun country Mardi Gras tradition.

Now in its 38th year (and with roots dating back centuries), the Iowa Chicken Run rolls out from the Knights of Columbus Hall on Fat Tuesday morning and winds through the village. When the parade captain blows his whistle at participating homes, it’s a signal for crews to exit their floats and dance to Zydeco music played with an accordion and old-time washboard.

If the families approve of the elaborate dancing, they donate vegetables, spices and other ingredients to be used in the community gumbo pot. Then — here it comes! — a chicken is thrown in the air, sometimes multiple chickens. That’s when squealing children are turned loose to chase down the pre-Lenten poultry.

After several stops and raucous chicken chases, the parade returns to the K of C hall where the ingredients are thrown into the giant gumbo pot. Soon, everyone digs into the town’s traditional Mardi Gras meal, then lets loose afterward at a rollicking Zydeco dance.

That’s the part Detroiters, drowsy from popping paczki, might consider importing. It would be a great way to shake off all those pesky poonch-key calories.

If chasing chickens and celebrating a family-friendly Mardi Gras sounds like fun, start planning now for next year at visitlakecharles.org.

Susan R. Pollack
Globetrotting journalist and former Detroit News staff writer Susan R. Pollack has covered travel since 1985, visiting scores of countries on five continents, 48 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, the Galapagos and New Zealand to South Africa, Thailand and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jetlag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel adventures with readers. In addition to The Detroit News, her award-winning stories and photos have appeared in major newspapers including the Dallas News, Toronto Star, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Sun Times; and magazines including Delta Sky, Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Experience Michigan, Jetsetter, Home & Away, Hour Detroit, Prevue Meetings and Group Tour. She has contributed to several books including "Rand McNally 2008 Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide," and is the copy editor for secondchancetravels.com. She also has written for websites including gardendestinations.com and travelingmom.com.