Carnival on the Lake
Lake Charles puts its own unique spin on annual celebrations
Like most South Louisiana cities, Lake Charles pulls out the stops for its annual Carnival festivities — more than 60 krewes and a host of related events. What makes this southwest city unique, however, is the annual gala that gives visitors and residents alike an insider’s view of Carnival without having to be a krewe member.
Everyone is welcome to the Royal Gala on Feb. 20, at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Lake Charles krewe members — kings and queens, jesters and debutantes and more — stroll through the arena in their costumed glory for visitors to view. It’s an opportunity to witness the enormous detail (and expense) invested in each costume.
But the fun begins with the 12th Night Car Show & Festival on Jan. 7, followed by a Taste of Mardi Gras on Feb. 15, a king cake tasting at the Civic Center Boardwalk, sponsored by the Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association.
The first Carnival parade to roll however, doesn’t stick to the pavement. The 2023 Lighted Boat Parade, features dozens of boats decorated for the season. The parade begins with a rotation around Lake Charles (the actual lake) at 7 p.m.,
Feb. 16. For those who prefer a street parade, the Merchants’ Parade rolls Feb. 17, on Ryan Street.
A highlight of this year’s Carnival is the World Famous Cajun Extravaganza and Gumbo Cook-off from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Feb. 18, at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Both amateur and professional teams, including many krewes, cook up their version of gumbo in the categories of chicken and sausage, seafood or wild game. Judging takes place around noon, then visitors are invited to sample the contestants’ gumbo both inside the arena and out.
“It’s huge,” said Kathryn Shea Duncan, director of social media at Visit Lake Charles. “I went last year and the line was around the block.”
Also on Feb. 18 is the Krewe of Barkus dog parade at the Civic Center, the Krewe of Omega Parade down Enterprise Boulevard and the Krewe of Illusions Extravaganza Show and Mardi Gras Ball, which honors Día de los Muertos. For the ball, formal attire is required.
On Feb. 19, it’s all about the kids. At 11 a.m. the Children’s Day activities at the Lake Charles Civic Center kick off, ending at 2:30 p.m. in time for the annual Mardi Gras Children’s Day Parade at 3:30 p.m. starting on Ryan Street.
Learn more at visitlakecharles.org/swlamardigras/events.
Mardi Gras Day
Another unique aspect of southwest Louisiana Carnival is the annual Iowa Chicken Run, the only Creole courir de Mardi Gras of its kind. Iowa (pronounced I-O-Way) community members go door to door “begging” for ingredients on
Mardi Gras, much like their Cajun counterparts, in order to create a communal gumbo.
“They get the rice at one stop, the chicken at another stop, the vegetables [at another],” Duncan explained.
Naturally, some items are purchased.
Chickens are involved, but they’re safe game — pun intended — when it comes to cooking the gumbo later in the day. (In other words, no chickens are harmed at this family-friendly event.) The courir de Mardi Gras rides through the community on horseback and wagons, throws the chickens in the air and lets adults and children alike try to catch the poultry, as is the centuries-old tradition originating in France. Later, Iowa community residents gather for gumbo and live music, food and fun are all free.
Back in Lake Charles, the Mardi Gras parades are rolling on Feb. 21, with the Krewe of Krewes Mardi Gras Parade finishing up the day.
“That’s where all the krewes are invited to parade on Mardi Gras,” Duncan said. “They start at sunset.”