What Mardi Gras means, plus 26 Fat Tuesday activities, lesson plans, and fun learning resources for kids, including a free Mardi Gras coloring pages pack! Here’s how to have fun with Mardi Gras for kids!
Mardi Gras Meaning and History
Want to breathe life back into your winter studies? Discuss fun holidays, talk about the Mardi Gras meaning, and add some Mardi Gras carnival activities for kids!
You may be wondering what does Mardi Gras mean and how to explain Mardi Gras to a child?
Some people shy away from the topic because they equate this holiday with the craziness of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana.
However, there’s so much more to this holiday!
There are Mardi Gras traditions, Mardi Gras food (Hello! King Cake!), Mardi Gras Krewes, Mardi Gras costumes (and Mardi Gras beads), the Mardi Gras parade, and so many other fun Mardi Gras facts you can share with your kids and turn it into a learning opportunity!
Honestly, Mardi Gras activities make a perfect unit study topic!
Ways To Celebrate Mardi Gras With Kids
- Grab a free Mardi Gras fact sheet and learn the history of Mardi Gras
- Read children’s Mardi Gras books
- Watch Mardi Gras videos of parades
- Make a King Cake
- Create a mini Mardi Gras float
- Do a bead necklace craft
- Make a mask
- Make a gumbo recipe
- Read about New Orleans
- Dress up and have a parade
- Watch a Mardi Gras history video
- Learn about Lent
DON’T MISS FREE PRINTABLES FOR KIDS LATER IN THE POST
Mardi Gras Coloring Sheets and Fact Sheet
What Is Mardi Gras?
What Mardi Gras Means
What is the meaning of Mardi Gras? Mardi Gras — also known as Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, and Carnival — marks the last day before the beginning of Lent. Although Mardi Gras has become a widely-accepted non-religious holiday, this day traditionally marked the last day before the period of fasting and repentance (“Lent”) before Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.
Traditionally, people were not allowed to eat “rich foods” like butter, meats, and oils during Lent. So, the day before Lent started, many people would indulge in the things that were not allowed during the 40-day Lent period. The date of Mardi Gras is always 41 days before Easter, so the date varies each year.
But…when does Mardi Gras start?
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When is Mardi Gras?
So, what date is Mardi Gras 2021?
Mardi Gras Dates: Shrove Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday) for Mardi Gras is on February 16, 2021.
Here’s Mardi Gras explained…
Why do we celebrate Mardi Gras?
We celebrate Mardi Gras as the last day before the traditional fasting and repentance of Lent begins. People indulge in the things that they will give up for Lent for the next 40 days.
What happens at Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras celebrations may vary slightly depending on the area of celebration. Traditionally, Mardi Gras is marked by floats, balls, parades, music, and picnics of traditional foods.
How long is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras Day (Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday) is one day before before Lent starts, or Ash Wednesday, (or 41 days before Easter). However, depending on the area, Mardi Gras celebrations can start as early as two weeks (or more) before Fat Tuesday.
Is Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday the same thing?
People sometimes call the carnivale leading up to Fat Tuesday “Mardi Gras.” However, Mardi Gras is actually Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday), which is the day before Ash Wednesday.
Mardi Gras Facts: History of Mardi Gras for Kids
Here are some fun Mardi Gras facts and history for your studies and Mardi Gras activities for kids:
- Mardi Gras Origin: The very first Mardi Gras was celebrated in 1703 in Mobile, Alabama.
- Mardi Gras New Orleans isn’t the only Mardi Gras. It is celebrated all across Southern Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, Galveston, Texas and has spread throughout the U.S. and world! (Carnivale is celebrated in other countries on the same day!)
- “Carnival refers to the period of feasting and fun that begins on Jan. 6, The Feast of the Epiphany. Mardi Gras refers to Fat Tuesday, the final day of revelry before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins.”
- Mardi Gras wasn’t referred to as “Carnival” until 1781.
- New Orleans floats are traditionally known as tableaux cars.
- Mardi Gras meaning of beads: Mardi Gras “throws” (like beads) started in 1870.
- The first beads were necklaces made of glass beads and thrown into the crowd.
- The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold.
- Mardi Gras meaning of colors: The official colors were set to honor the Russian Romanov family, whose family colors were purple, green, and gold.
- There are secret society social clubs called Krewes.
- The Zulu Krewe hands out coveted hand decorated coconuts during the parade.
- It is illegal to ride on a Mardi Gras float in New Orleans without wearing a mask.
- A small baby figure is included in the traditional King Cake. The person who gets the baby is responsible for bringing the cake the following year.
- Mardi Gras is celebrated on Fat Tuesday.
- Fat Tuesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday.
- Shrove Tuesday comes from the word “shrive” which means “the confession and absolution of sin.”
- Mardi Gras is also known as Pancake Day or Paczki Day.
(Don’t miss the Mardi Gras fact sheet activity pack below!)
Mardi Gras Traditions
Mardi Gras traditions include:
- King Cake with a small baby figurine placed inside.
- Mardi Gras parades featuring different Mardi Gras Krewes and floats.
- Elaborate Mardi Gras costumes and masks.
- Beads and “throws” (or trinkets) that are handed out and thrown from floats.
- Specific Mardi Gras colors (green, purple, and yellow).
- Carnival pancakes and tossing pancakes with a coin in the hand for good luck.
- Masquerade Ball (or the invitation-only Carnival Ball), which marks the end of Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras Colors
As we mentioned earlier, the official colors of Mardi Gras are green, purple, and yellow.
The colors were assigned to celebrate the Russian Romanov family, whose family colors were green, purple, and gold.
There are specific meanings for each of the Mardi Gras colors:
- Green means Faith
- Purple means Justice
- Gold means Power
Mardi Gras Beads
Mardi Gras beads are often one of the first things people think about when talking about Mardi Gras.
These beads are used as “throws” that are tossed off of floats during the parade and handed out during the holiday.
The traditional beads are the same colors as the holiday colors (purple, gold, and green). However, today there are beads of all different shapes, sizes, and colors. Some of the beads even light up!
Today, there are also other trinkets given out during the parade, but beads remain the most popular “throw.”
Mardi Gras Costumes and Masks
Mardi Gras costumes and masks started so that people who were not invited to the Carnival parties could participate by concealing their identities.
This allowed people who were of “lower class” to mingle with the “upper class” and attend parties that they normally wouldn’t be invited to.
Most Mardi Gras costumes and masks are simple and follow a theme.
Others are very specific and include hundreds of feathers and intricate beading.
Mardi Gras Parade
Mardi Gras parades take place all over starting a couple of weeks before and running to Shrove Tuesday.
The parades include Mardi Gras music, costumes, masks, and floats, where the Krewes toss “throws” like beads into the crowds.
People on floats are required to wear masks concealing their identities.
You can even view Mardi Gras parade schedules and route maps!
Mardi Gras Food
Food for mardi gras is one of the best things about the celebration and King Cake is probably one of the most popular Mardi Gras foods! However, there are many other traditional foods associated with this celebration.
Mardi Gras food includes many rich and decadent items like
- King Cake
- Red Beans & Rice
- Crawfish Boil
- Shrimp & Grits
- Dirty Rice
- Milk Punch
How do kids celebrate Mardi Gras?
Ready to celebrate Mardi Gras and learn more about what Mardi Gras means?
Here are some great activities, Mardi Gras crafts, and Mardi Gras worksheets and lessons to add to your homeschooling and Mardi Gras theme!
(These are also great Mardi Gras party ideas!)
Come back and tell us which are your favorites after you try out some of these Mardi Gras activities for the classroom or home or how fun you had with Mardi Gras for families activities.
Here’s how to enjoy Mardi Gras with kids…
26 Kid Friendly Mardi Gras Activities for Kids
Learn About Mardi Gras History
Get the kiddos started with a little history of Mardi Gras from these online videos:
Learn About the “Mardi Gras Indians” [VIDEO]
According to LouisianaFolkLife.org:
The “Mardi Gras Indian” tribes of New Orleans are, in fact, the oldest cultural organizations surviving from the original African tribes which were brought into New Orleans during slavery days. The tribes are particularly noted for preserving African “dress art” and musical heritage in the New World.
Get Free Preschool Mardi Gras Printables and Mardi Gras Worksheets
If you’re looking for some FREE preschool Mardi Gras printable lessons, this pack includes sounds, counting, coloring a Mardi Gras mask and more.
Make a Mini King Cake
A King Cake has been described as a cross between a coffee cake and a French pastry.
It is decorated in three different color icings that represent the Wise Men’s jeweled crowns when they visited baby Jesus.
The colors are: purple to represent justice, green to represent faith, and gold to represent power.
Prizes like coins and beads were traditionally hidden in the King Cake.
Today, a small plastic baby is hidden in the cake.
Then, the person who gets the piece of cake with the baby gets to be king for the day and is supposed to host the party and make the King Cake for next year.
Decorate a Mardi Gras Crown
Grab a pack of Mardi Gras crowns and decorate them! Talk about the meaning of the different colors (purple, green, yellow) of Mardi Gras.
Create Mardi Gras Masks
One of the most fun things about Mardi Gras is dressing up. So, have fun making your own masks!
Mardi Gras masks come in all different different decorations, so get creative using feathers, glitter, ribbon and more to make a unique mask!
Make Your Own Mardi Gras “Bead” Necklace
Beaded necklaces are a big deal at Mardi Gras.
Construct a Mini Mardi Gras Float
Floats are a huge part of annual Mardi Gras parades.
Watch this video about Mardi Gras World, where they make the Mardi Gras floats in New Orleans. (You can even visit there and it’s SUPER cool! It’s like a giant Mardi Gras museum!)
Guess the Mardi Gras Item Game
This is a fun one for all ages. Make a Mardi Gras themed sensory bin, then get a blindfold and have each person see how many Mardi Gras items they can guess in 30 seconds.
The person who guesses the most gets to be Mardi Gras King or Queen for the day.
Make a King or Queen For a Day
Everyone wants to be King or Queen for a day, right?
Here’s a cute free Mardi Gras printable that gives you a king or queen to decorate.
The kids can then write about what they would do if they were king or queen for a day.
Make a Mardi Gras Inspired Dish (or Meal)
Have little cooks?
Make a fun New Orleans or Mardi Gras inspired dish (or even an entire meal).
Here are some yummy recipes for inspiration:
What is the story of Mardi Gras? Read Books About Mardi Gras
One of our favorite Mardi Gras books is Mimi’s First Mardi Gras
It takes you through what happens on the day of Mardi Gras from the eyes of little Mimi.
Mimi and her family get ready for a Mardi Gras party, pick costumes, talk about food, go to a parade, count their loot and more.
We loved the awesome illustrations, too.
Also check out these other Mardi Gras books:
Use this history of Mardi Gras printable fact sheet to refer back to at any time during your studies, plus Mardi Gras mask coloring page and activity sheets!