by Van Roy
Louisiana is known the world over for its carnival season, most notably, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the revered day of revelry heralding the end of the feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and the beginning of Lent. Lundi Gras (Fat Monday), on other hand, is a relatively new tradition in comparison. Though Monday night celebrations before Mardi Gras date back to 1874, 18 years after the first modern Carnival celebrations in North America, recognizing Lundi Gras in any official way fell into obscurity after War World I. The Lundi Gras celebration began when Rex, King of Carnival, asked to arrive on the banks of the Mississippi and be taken by horse and carriage to City Hall in New Orleans, where he would be crowned King and given the keys to the city to reign the following twenty-four hours. Though this tradition ended after the war, it was recreated in 1971 for a one-time only honoring Rex’s Centennial. Rex once again made a grand arrival on the Riverfront in 1987 at the foot of Canal Street. Carnival historian, journalist and editor Errol Laborde is widely credited with popularizing the phrase Lundi Gras, which has been acknowledged and celebrated ever since, only growing in popularity.
One of the first communities in Louisiana to celebrate Lundi Gras is nestled in the lush green pastures of the quaint village of Moncla, just miles east of Marksville in Avoyelles Parish. The Moncla Community Centre and Theatre, whose origins date back to the mid-late 1950’s, began to celebrate the night before Mardi Gras as a community gathering and parade created to mimic the popular and regional “courir de Mardi Gras” celebrations that were going on in the Mamou area. “The French descendants living in the village capitalized on the growing trend of embracing our French language and culture, joining them in a lively and colorful day of celebration before Lent,” says Moncla Community Centre Board President Polly Campbell. It is generally agreed upon that Moncla began this annual tradition in 1987. What started as a small community parade with homemade floats snaking around country roads with revelers in handcrafted, colorful costumes grew to be an anticipated event parishwide with people coming from all parts of the state to celebrate Lundi Gras. Campbell goes on to say, “It simply outgrew its capacity as it grew in popularity. Between the bottleneck traffic, over 100 horses at one point and concern for people’s safety, as community leaders we felt it was best to suspend the event.”
That was, until 2013, when the board decided to revive the celebration, only this time in a venue and as a fundraiser for the community center and theater. Hosted at Bailey’s on the Square in Marksville, this Lundi Gras celebration embraced all the best parts of its predecessor, including the presentation of Royalty, the handmade costumes, live Cajun music, great food and even a festive parade stroll around the courthouse square with Gerard “The Stump Jumper” Dupuy leading the way with his fiddle. Word quickly got around that this charming event was one to mark on your carnival season calendar.
This year organizers will be presenting its 8th Annual Lundi Gras celebration and benefit at Bailey’s on the Square on Monday, February 24, 2020. Doors will open at 7pm and admission is $15. or $25. per couple with proceeds directly benefiting the Moncla Community Centre and Theatre, which is housed in the home of Louisiana Governor, Edwin Edward’s father. The center continues to be a historic touchstone for the community with plans to host events and productions as soon as their renovation is complete.
This year’s reigning royal couple is Logan and Courteney Chauffepied, who met at the parade as kids. Patrons are encouraged to come in costume and will no doubt see many festive creations in the tradition of “le couirir!” Returning to the stage is Moncla native and longtime resident, Gerard “The Stump Jumper” Dupuy, who will be joined by world renowned Cajun musician, Bobby Michot, T-Boy Lemoine, T-Chris Lachney and new band member Brandi Alyse. Together they are the Moncla Cajun Band and Lundi Gras is their favorite time to perform together “because we get to preserve our rich French heritage,” says Dupuy.
In addition to the lively French music and presentation of royalty will be the world famous sweet potato dances, where couples hold a local sweet potato between their chins and compete to see who can dance the longest without dropping the potato. There will be a silent auction of repurposed antique windows from the community center, beautifully painted and adorned by local artists.
Sharing one last thought on Moncla’s Lundi Gras, Campbell states, “This event is so dear to our hearts and truly embodies the spirit of Carnival! As we say in Avoyelles, laissez les bons temps rouler … allons feter Lundi Gras!”