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.