What is Mardi Gras? Mardi Gras or Carnivale season refers to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after the Feast of the Epiphany or Kings Day and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday.
Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. The day is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning “confess.” Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. (source: Wikipedia.)
The 40 days of Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday and precedes Easter, is based on two Biblical accounts: the 40 years of wilderness wandering by the Israelites and our Lord’s 40 days in the wilderness when He was tempted by Satan.
Mardi Gras Traditions
There are many Mardi Gras traditions depending on where in the world you are celebrating. Here in the United States, the largest Mardi Gras celebration is held each year in New Orleans, Louisiana, with people dressing up in costumes, wearing masks, and watching the grand Mardi Gras parade with extremely ornate floats and float riders throwing beads to the onlookers. These parades have been a Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans since the original parade in 1857 established by the Mystic Krewe of Comus.
The official Mardi Gras colors were chosen in 1872 to honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanoff, whose house colors were purple, green, and gold. The Meaning and Origin of Purple, Green, and Gold in Mardi Gras: Purple Represents Justice. Green Represents Faith. Gold Represents Power.
Begin (or end) your Fat Tuesday with Mardi Gras pancakes! My daughter loves any opportunity to make pancakes. Blueberry pancakes on the weekend. Chocolate chip pancakes with ice cream for dessert. Therefore, we always make it a Mardi Gras tradition to have pancakes for dinner on Fat Tuesday. For a little added enjoyment, you can use food coloring in the batter to make the pancakes different colors, especially green, purple, and gold.
The Tradition of the King Cake
Oh, and you must have a King Cake!
What is King Cake? A type of cake associated in a number of countries with the Feast of Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season, and in other places with the pre-Lenten celebrations of Mardi Gras/Carnivale. and it’s yummy!
There are numerous recipes for King Cake on the internet, but in keeping with tradition, a true King Cake is a brioche dough flavored with cinnamon, and the cake is covered in sweet purple, green, and gold sugar icing. King Cake is definitely sugar overload! Here is a really easy King Cake recipe using Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. (Thank you, Lise!)
The name of the King Cake is derived from the 3 wise men in the Bible that visited the baby Jesus on the 12th night. King Cake is served on January 6, King’s Day, and lasts through the eve of Mardi Gras celebrating the coming of the 3 wise men (or kings). Which brings us to the question, “Why the baby in the cake?”
There are different theories behind the baby in the cake. One such theory is that the baby represents the baby Jesus. A second theory stems from New Orleans lore which states that an elaborate cake was served during the king’s ball, and the baker placed either a bean or ring inside the cake. Whoever found the trinket inside the cake would be crowned king or queen of the balls leading up to Mardi Gras. Today, though, the plastic doll is used as a token of good luck to whoever finds the baby in the cake. However, the person that does find the baby is also responsible for bringing the cake to the next year’s celebration.
Mardi Gras Sensory Bins
When my daughter was younger, she loved to do school with her older brothers. Of course, she was not old enough yet to partake in the daily lessons, so I would sit her on her favorite blanket near the fire with a sensory bin.
For her Mardi Gras sensory bin, I would fill the bin with feathers, plastic colored coins, bead necklaces, masks, gems, smooth glass stones, crowns, tiaras, and plastic babies like in the King Cake. In keeping with the color tradition of Mardi Gras, everything would be gold, green, and purple.
Mardi Gras Decorations and Masks
With a large family, we have always enjoyed making each holiday a festive event for the children; and Mardi Gras is no exception. In the days leading up to Mardi Gras, I would sit everyone down at the table to make homemade decorations. I supplied them with copy paper, crayons and markers, construction paper, scissors, glue, glitter, beads, sequins, feathers, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, and much more – all of which we got at the local dollar store, craft store, and Amazon.
They would love to make Mardi Gras pictures and signs to hand around the house, as well as multi-colored paper chains and streamers to hang from the ceiling. They would even make their own masks.
For the masks, I would use plain paper plates and have them cut the plates into a mask shape which they loved to color and decorate with feathers and sequins. I would use a ribbon to tie the masks onto my children’s faces. There are also plain paper masquerade masks available for your children to decorate.
As every child loves balloons, we would also go to the local dollar store and get green, gold, and purple balloons to hang around the house, as well. Or, I am sure that your local grocery store, Walmart, Party City, and, obviously, Amazon have a great selection of Mardi Gras decorations and balloons ready to go. You may also want to get a helium tank to inflate the balloons for added decorative pleasure.
Some other fun Mardi Gras activities
Family Traditions to Celebrate During Lent
Remember, the Lenten season is a time we set aside each year to remember the love of God that is poured out through Christ Jesus on the cross in His death; and His defeat of death, sin, and Satan in Christ’s death and resurrection that brings Eternal Life to you. Easter is always celebrated during the spring season, which is the season of rebirth. The following are other traditions that you can start with your family during this wonderful time of year.
1. New Life – plant spring flowers like lilies, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, or crocuses in the yard or a windowsill planter to remind you of the new life we have in Jesus
2. Devotions – begin a Bible study with your family and friends
3. Give Up – many give up chocolate, coffee, Facebook, TV, or something else they feel is approaching the position of an idol in their lives as an outer symbol of dying to self during Lent, a season of spiritual reflection.
4. Mite Box – Select a charity and collect money during Lent. Have kids decorate a little bank or box to keep it in for 40 days.
5. Pretzels – buy or bake pretzels and learn the legend of the prayer
6. Giving – find ways to give sacrificially and teach your kids to be servant leaders. Serve with your time, money, bodies, and talents and be the body of Christ.
7. Jonah story – discuss the issues of sin, obedience, and God’s mercy in the Jonah story and how it points to Christ.
8. Easter Seals – support or volunteer for the Easter Seals organization. “Easter means Resurrection and New Life, and the rehabilitation of crippled children means new life and activity . . . physically, mentally, spiritually.”
9. Pray – Practice becoming a prayer warrior and keep a prayer journal or list and go through it each day for 40 days. You’ll be blessed and a blessing!
10. Handel’s Messiah or a Passion play – Go to a live performance and worship God in art. Invite friends and family members. Even the Son of God movie might be a great outing and get some wonderful conversation started with friends and family. Use it as a witnessing tool!