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Katina's Pick: Cajun Mardi Gras by Dixie Poche

Dive into Cajun Mardi Gras, where the party goes down with a wholly different flourish.

People the world over know about Mardi Gras.

It’s likely, however, that when they picture Mardi Gras, they see the pageantry of New Orleans.

The reality of Mardi Gras for some in smaller Louisiana communities, however, is something altogether different. This reader picked up Dixie Poche’s Cajun Mardi Gras: A History of Chasing Chickens and Making Gumbo in the hopes of seeing a familiar local tradition -- the Mardi Gras whippers in Gheens with their masks and their switches, and wasn’t disappointed.

Poche’s Cajun Mardi Gras is both an interesting and enlightening read. The author not only describes some unique carnival observances, but also delves into their possible origins, drawing similarities to European customs and religious rites.

The masked participants who carry switches and chase children and adults alike in Gheens on Mardi Gras Day, and those who – when caught – fall to their knees in the hopes of pardon, can symbolize atonement leading into the Lenten season.

Unique Mardi Gras customs in other Louisiana locales such as Basile, Mermentau Cove, Eunice, Mamou, and more are explored.  While some customs might seem comical or even irreverent, that’s hardly the case. In Poche’s talks with participants, it’s clear that many of these traditions are time-honored and intergenerational, entrusted by one generation to the next, with some involving visits to local cemeteries to pay respects to those gone before them. These traditions also foster comradery and a sense of community.

Poche’s Cajun Mardi Gras can be viewed as a primer of sorts on historical and present-day Cajun culture. Initial chapters deal with Cajun ancestry and migration and social events ranging from bereavement customs to weddings. The book touches on other aspects such as Cajun music, Mardi Gras costuming, and, of course, food – with gumbo in its many variations front and center.

Both black and white and color photos offer a glimpse into Cajun Mardi Gras customs.

 In all, Cajun Mardi Gras contains the ingredients necessary to pass a good time and provide a bit of insight into what one might expect when celebrating Mardi Gras in Cajun country. - Katina, Area Librarian

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