When you think of Mardi Gras you probably equate it with partying on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. While this holiday may seem primarily for adults, it’s can also be really fun for children. Here’s how to celebrate this winter holiday in your classroom.
What is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras is a winter holiday that dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries. According to the History Channel, Mardi means “Tuesday “and Gras means “fat” in French. Therefore, the day before Ash Wednesday in France became known as Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday”. Traditionally this holiday is all about indulging in food and drink in the days leading up to Lent – a religious observation in the Christian calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday. In 1699, the festival made its way to America and landed near New Orleans, Louisiana. Festivities such as parades, street parties – where individuals throw beads and dress in costume – mask balls, and lavish dinners all took place and still do today.
Fun Mardi Gras Activities to Try in Your Class
Help students understand the Mardi Gras holiday, from its rich history to the global traditions and celebrations with some classroom activities.
The History of Mardi Gras
A great way to kick-off your Mardi Gras celebration is to have students dive into the history of the holiday. Virtual students can read about the history on Ducksters. Middle and high school students can learn about Mardi Gras from the History Channel. Once students learn the history, have them write down 10 interesting facts.
Extension: Create a game on Quizlet using the history facts students learned.
Traditions and Global Celebrations
Mardi Gras is celebrated across the globe, from France to Sweden to Brazil and Belgium; different countries celebrate in many colorful ways. Challenge students to choose a country and learn more about how they specifically celebrate Mardi Gras. For example, the United States looks to New Orleans, Louisiana, for celebrating Mardi Gras festivities. There are parades, floats, and plastic beads being thrown out to crowds. While in Brazil, Mardi Gras is the most celebrated holiday and the largest in the world. Once students have researched how their country celebrates, have them create a short three-minute presentation on Flipgrid.
Extension: After students watch all of the Flipgrid videos create a game where students have to match the country with the appropriate Mardi Gras celebration.
Mardi Gras Masks and Beads
It’s not a Mardi Gras celebration until you have a mask. Students can print out their own mask and decorate it right from home. Then, they can show off their creations by wearing them in the classroom or virtually. Older students can create their own mask from scratch instead of printing out a template. Challenge these students to be creative and only use supplies they already have at home.
Extension: Create a game like the show called the “Masked Singer” where students virtually wear their masks and have to read a fact about Mardi Gras and the other students have to guess who is under the mask.
Mardi Gras is also known for beads and it’s often one of the first things people think about when they hear of the holiday “Mardi Gras”. Traditional colors are purple, gold, and green. However, today’s celebrations use many different colors and some beads even light up! Try having students use a variety of different beads to create their own Mardi Gras necklace or use Mardi Gras beads for a game of bead toss or for a craft where students create a mosaic.
Mardi Gras Food Traditions
A Mardi Gras celebration wouldn’t be complete without Pancakes and Kings Cakes! Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day — all four terms refer to the same day – the day before Ash Wednesday. Back in the day, pancakes were eaten on this day as a way to use up eggs, milk, and sugar before fasting for Lent. Teach students the old English rhyme for Shrove Tuesday, then cook up (or have students cook at home) some pancakes for students to eat.
Shrove Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, when Jack went to plough,
His mother made pancakes, she didn’t know how;
She tipped them, she tossed them, she made them so black,
She put so much pepper she poisoned poor Jack.
Kings cakes is another beloved tradition that begun in the 1870s and is in honor of the three kings. The cake is decorated in traditional Mardi Gras colors, purple representing justice, green for faith, and gold for power. The traditional cake is made with cinnamon dough and topped with icing and sprinkled with purple, green, and gold colored sugar. Share a recipe with students and challenge them to make it at home.
Mardi Gras Float
Mardi Gras is known for its elaborate parades and the floats are usually spectacular. Instruct students to design their own miniature float out of a shoebox. First, show them videos of Mardi Gras parades to help them get some ideas on what some floats look like. Also, remind students that Mardi Gras is all about personal expression and to be creative with their miniature floats.
Extension: Have students vote on the best miniature float. Winner gets a prize!
There you have it, fun engaging Mardi Gras activities that students will enjoy and take with them for years to come.