How to Celebrate Mardi Gras With Your Kids
Want an exciting way to help your kids meet goals?
Hold your own family Mardi Gras celebration! It’s a fun and festive way to kick off the start of a new goal.
In this article I’ll show you how to create a kid-friendly Mardi Gras celebration with costumes, games and cake.
Use the decorations as a Carnival countdown calendar that will help your kids meet a goal.
Why Mardi Gras and Kids?
Whether your family practices Lent or not, you can enjoy the colorful party atmosphere of Mardi Gras and all of its accoutrements—the masks, the beads, the parades, the music and the food—from your own home.
Since you’ll be mimicking the party, why not mimic the hard work that follows Mardi Gras, too? It’s tough to start new habits (or stop doing the not-so-good ones) no matter how old you are. This project can help.
Use the celebration with your kids to set them on a path of self-improvement and recycle that sparkly party gear into a colorful tracking chart that keeps the spirit of Carnival alive and helps you and your kids to stay dedicated.
What Is Mardi Gras or Carnival?
Mardi Gras (also called Fat Tuesday or Carnival) is celebrated in many places around the world, most notably in New Orleans, LA, USA; Venice, Italy; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The tradition began as a gathering to eat up all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese—foods not allowed during the six weeks of Lent—in the days before refrigerators and freezers existed. Carnival, which comes from the Italian expression “carne levare” (“to remove meat”), was one last time to indulge before the fasting began.
Learn more about the historical origins of Mardi Gras from this video.
Today Mardi Gras is a week-long (or longer) festival of parades, masquerade balls, music and food. Fun family activities are plentiful. Revelers of all ages wear colorful costumes and masks to attend parades and cookouts where they try to catch bead necklaces and other trinkets in Carnival colors of purple (for justice), green (for faith) and gold (for power).
Despite its raucous reputation, most Mardi Gras events in New Orleans are family-friendly.
You can recreate several Mardi Gras traditions in your own home or neighborhood for a fun celebration with your family. I’ll show you how.
Ready? Let’s get the party started!
#1: Set a Springtime Goal
Is there a new habit you’d like to help your kids achieve? (Or a bad habit they need to overcome?) Since Mardi Gras celebrations represent the kickoff of a period of fasting or working toward goals, you can set some goals, too.
Talk to them about something they’d like to achieve. Choose something that needs to be addressed daily, like limiting screen time, practicing a musical instrument or remembering to do a chore. Parents, why not take the opportunity to set a goal for yourselves too, and work on it right alongside your kids?
Set a time period that works for your family. You can work on your goal for 45 days (the length of Lent) or choose a month, a week or some other time frame.
Make a Mardi Gras chart to keep track of your progress.
Print out a headshot photo of each person setting a goal. The photo should be as close to life-sized as possible, so use a full sheet of paper to print it on.
Cut the background out of the photo, leaving you with just the head and shoulders. Paste the photo to the middle of an 11 x 17″ (28 x 43 cm) piece of poster board. If you don’t have poster board, you can use a file folder, opened up flat.
Have each person write a goal at the bottom of his or her poster. “I will [STATE YOUR GOAL] every day.”
Bend a chenille stem into a curve and fold over about ½” (1 cm) on each end.
Poke a small hole on either side of the neck in your photo and push the folded ends of the chenille stem through them so it looks like your picture is wearing a necklace.
Your goal is set. Now it’s time to play!
#2: Make a Mardi Gras Mask and Other Props
Masquerade balls were held during carnival celebrations of old as a way for nobles and commoners to celebrate together, disguising their class rankings. The tradition of wearing masks, hats, wigs and costumes continues to this day.
To make a carnival mask, place your child’s hands flat on a foam sheet so that the heels of the hands are touching.
Trace around both hands and cut the mask out. It’s tricky to get around the finger curves. Don’t worry, it doesn’t need to be perfect.
Hold the mask to your child’s face and make sure it fits.
Turn it over so all the pen marks are on the back and mark where the eyes should be cut out. Draw a dot on each temple to mark where the mask straps should be attached. Our sparkly black foam is sticky on the back. The white waxed paper covering the sticker was perfect for marking on.
Cut out holes for the eyes using a craft knife.
Punch two small holes at the temples where you marked the back.
Decorate the mask with jewels, glitter, feathers and other embellishments. This should be lots of fun for the kids. It’s ok if things extend over the edges of the mask, but don’t cover the holes you punched.
When the glue is dry, push a chenille stem through each hole at the sides of the mask.
Bend the end into a corkscrew or tie a bead onto the front to keep it attached.
Twist the long ends together at the back of your child’s head to hold the mask in place. My son said, “Tell them to use the soft kind of pipe cleaners, Mom. Those shiny ones are way too itchy.”
You could use string or yarn instead, or even glue the mask onto some old sunglasses.
Here are some more ideas for costumes and props that we found on the Internet:
Once you’re all decked out in your party gear, it’s time to start the parade.
#3: Mardi Gras Parade Scavenger Hunt
Mardi Gras celebrations are well-known for their elaborate parades. There are floats that look like giant heads and people in bright costumes tossing beads and trinkets to the people watching along the route, all to the tune of lively music.
Play some festive Mardi Gras music for your parade.
In our family version of Mardi Gras, the people become the parade and your kids will try to spot beads and trinkets along the route.
Before getting started, hide small piles of pony beads, necklaces, brightly wrapped candies and other Mardi Gras paraphernalia around your house or yard. Make sure the kids don’t see where you’re hiding them!
When it’s time to start the parade, tell everyone to put on their masks and grab a bag, box or basket to collect the trinkets in (we used Ziploc bags).
Line up in a conga line, hands on each other’s shoulders, and lead your family in a dance through the house or yard to Mardi Gras music.
As you guide them past places where you hid goodies, excuse the kids one at a time to leave the line and go find something sparkly.
Keep parading around until all the treats have been found. Each child should have at least 45 beads in his or her collection.
#4: Make Jambalaya and King Cake
Dancing in a parade is tiring! Your young partiers will be ready to eat a traditional Mardi Gras meal of jambalaya and king cake.
King cake is another Mardi Gras tradition. They are typically made in a ring shape and decorated in Mardi Gras colors of purple, yellow and green. A small figurine, usually a plastic baby, is baked into the cake and the person who finds it hosts the next king cake party.
We found this easy king cake recipe from BuddafulDreamer at All Recipes. It uses refrigerated cinnamon roll dough.
Here’s how to make your own easy King Cake as part of your Mardi Gras celebration.
Use 2-3 cans of large cinnamon roll dough (sometimes called “grands”). We used 3 cans for a family of four and had leftovers.
Unroll the dough into strips and stack two strips on top of each other, cinnamon side in.
Place three sets of strips side-by-side and braid them together.
Arrange the braid in a wreath shape on a cookie sheet, cake pan (for a small cake) or pizza stone. Then make the next braid and arrange next to the first one until you have a complete circle. You may want to weave the ends together a bit to make it look complete.
Hide a small toy inside the King Cake. Traditionally a plastic baby is hidden, but we used a large shooter marble. Be sure the toy is hidden completely in the dough.
If you’re not sure that the toy is oven-safe, you can slit the cake open after baking and hide the toy then. The frosting will cover the slit.
Bake the cake as directed on the can.
Frost with the included frosting, then sprinkle with green, purple and gold sugar or sprinkles. You can also tint the frosting in the three colors with food coloring.
Caution: Be sure to tell everyone to look through their pieces of cake before taking a bite. Nobody should eat until the toy is found. And skip the hidden toy altogether if you have kids under age three.
Enjoy your Mardi Gras King Cake. And be sure to award a privilege or prize to the person who found the toy.
#5: Track Your Goal
When your Mardi Gras festivities have drawn to a close, you can repurpose the mask and beads by adding them to the countdown calendar for a fun way to help your kids keep track of their progress toward the goals they set.
Arrange the mask onto the poster you made earlier. You may need to cut parts off to make it lie flat. It will look like the photo on the poster is wearing the actual mask.
Glue the mask down and add any other festive accessories you like to decorate the poster.
Explain to the kids that they can add a bead to the necklace each day they achieve progress toward the goal they set.
Demonstrate by adding the first bead to the necklace of the person who found the baby in the king cake. They get a free day toward the goal as a prize for winning the game.
Once their picture is wearing a complete beaded necklace, it’s time to celebrate success!
Some Final Thoughts…
While the full-scale parades and party atmosphere of real Mardi Gras celebrations around the world can’t be duplicated, I hope you’ve been able to capture a taste of the bright, colorful Carnival festivities with your family. Mardi Gras is fun for everyone and the celebration is a great way to get your kids motivated and excited about the start of a new goal.
What do you think? Have you ever been to a real Mardi Gras or Carnival celebration? What other activities can you think of to bring these fun festivities to your family? I’d love to see how you celebrate. Leave a comment or photo of your family’s Mardi Gras party below.
Jennifer Ballard is the associate editor for My Kids’ Adventures where her past experience as a Cubmaster, birthday party entrepreneur, marketing writer and mom of two boys fits together and finds relevance. Other posts by Jennifer Ballard »