Nothing might sound less kid-friendly than Mardi Gras - the Carnival celebration infamous in the U.S. for its beads, boobs, and booze. But the central theme of Mardi Gras is fun - and that's something that kids of all ages can really get behind. Costumes, dancing, food and drink mark the festivities which are celebrated all over the world, and with a few tweaks you can throw a Mardi Gras party that will thrill kids and adults alike, while still staying PG.
Mardi Gras (from the French, meaning literally "Fat Tuesday") originated as a final celebration of fun and indulgence before the commencement of Lent, the 40-day period which for many Christian denominations means prayer, penitence, and the foregoing of indulgences. The New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration is just one of many versions around the world, where it is celebrated in style in South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe.
You can bring this international celebration home with a day full of crafts and fun: perfect for a February birthday or just because! Send out invitations to friends and family and request that kids come in costume, or bring dress-up supplies (you may also want to opt for a pot-luck style meal). Next, just round up some craft supplies. The day of, decorate the party area with the colors of Mardi Gras - purple, green, and gold - and have your child help you bake the King Cake for the special event.
Here's how to get started on cooking and crafts for this annual celebration:
Masks and costumes are an essential part of Mardi Gras and Carnival festivities. Venetian masks especially have become an emblem of these celebrations, with their gold, white or black backgrounds embellished with incredible detail and ornamentation. Mask-wearing in Venice emerged as a method of disguise for people engaging in illicit or indiscreet activities, such as gambling, and as a provocative guise at masquerade balls and other social events. Over time, these masks came to symbolize the spirit and excess of Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations.
Make a Mardi Gras Mask
You can pretty much use any material to make a mask, but flexible (non-corrugated) cardboard is easiest, especially for young children. Alternatives includepapier mache (which is another activity altogether!) and wire mesh.
What You Need:
- Mask material (cardboard, papier mache, or wire mesh)
- Elastic string
- Craft feathers in purple, green, and gold colors (yellow will also work)
- Decorative elements - anything goes! Some suggested materials include sequins, craft jewels, lace and other fabric, pipe-cleaners, beads, and glitter. (Note: many of these materials can also be used in our miniature float activity, below)
- Glue stick and/or hot glue gun
What You Do:
- Decide whether you want your mask to cover the entire face, or just the top half. Get out your cardboard piece and, with your child, estimate where the eye holes should go to fit his face. Cut out two small holes, and hold the cardboard piece up to his face. Are the eye holes in the right place? If so, enlarge them and then cut out the mask in a shape of your choosing. (Note: if you are planning on making mask-decorating a party activity, cut out enough masks for your guests to decorate beforehand.)
- Now comes the fun part! Let your child's imagination run wild as he decorates his mask. Some ideas include: lining the edge of the mask with feathers pointing outwards, attaching a veil to the mask, or experimenting with fun facial features such as a curly mustache. (Note: the hot glue gun will probably be needed for affixing items, such as sequins and beads, to the mask. An adult should perform this step or monitor it closely, depending on the ages of the children present.)
- When you child's mask is fully decorated, set it aside until the glue is dry. Next, cut or hole-punch a small hole on the left and right sides of the mask and tie a piece of elastic string through them to hold the mask in place.
Mardi Gras Parade and Floats
Parading and music are a big part of the Mardi Gras celebration. In New Orleans, organized groups called "krewes" arrange parades, elaborate floats and/or balls during the Carnival season. In addition to floats, Mardi Gras parades are known for "throws," that is, the throwing of treats and small items such as beads and "doubloons" (aluminum coins).
Make a Mini Mardi Gras Float
Krewes spend months working on their Mardi Gras floats, but your child can enjoy the fun in far less time with this miniature float activity. All you need is a shoebox, some crafts supplies, and a little imagination!
What You Need:
- Assorted types of paper, such as wrapping, tissue, and construction paper
- School glue
- Hot glue gun
- Assorted craft materials, such as sequins, craft jewels, lace and other fabric, pipe-cleaners, beads, and glitter.
- Small plastic figurines of people, animals, and other items to adorn the top of the float (optional)
- 2 wooden dowels, approx. 9-inches long
- Sturdy cardboard
What You Do:
- A shoebox, like a parade float, can be anything you want it to be, so the first step is figuring out what theme you want your float to follow. Is it a ship with pirates? A flower fairy hideaway? A royal King and Queen ofMardi Gras?
- After your child has decided on a theme, she will need to use her imagination to make the shoebox come alive. Using wrapping paper in a color that works with her theme and regular glue such as Elmer's, have her first wrap the outside of the box (you can set aside the lid) and tuck the edges of the paper on the inside.
- Before you begin decorating, turn the box over (open side down) and make four holes towards the bottom of the inverted box, one towards the end of each long side. Make these big enough that the dowels can fit through them - you'll attach wheels later on to turn the float into a rolling marvel.
- Next, have your child use paper and whatever other supplies she desires to decorate the sides and top of the float. For example, if she is shooting for an underwater wonderland, she might use different colors of blue tissue paper and construction paper to make waves on the sides of the box, then cutout colorful fish and glue them onto the sides and top. Using sequins and glitter to accent the scene is a must.
- For the top of the float, your child may want to glue on small figures of animals or people. If you don't have any, have your child draw the characters she wants on a piece of white paper. Cut out the figure, glue it to a small piece of cardboard, then cut the cardboard out to make for a sturdy figure that your child can glue to the top of her float.
- Once the float is finished, push the dowels through the holes on the bottom of the float to form axles. Then, cut out four round wheels from your sturdy cardboard. Using the hot glue gun, affix each wheel to the end of each dowel. Let dry, and let the parade begin!
Sometimes associated with the Christmas season, King Cake is also a symbol of Mardi Gras festivities. Traditionally, a small plastic baby or other small trinket is baked into the cake. The person who discovers the piece in their cake is crowned the King or Queen of Mardi Gras, and enjoys special privileges, as well as the responsibility of providing the cake next time around.
More like a sweet breakfast roll than an actual cake, you can easily adapt your favorite cinnamon roll recipe to fit the bill, substituting purple, green, and gold icing instead of regular old white. Here's a basic cinnamon roll recipe if yours isn't handy:
- 1 pkg. dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 2 tbsp. milk
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp. water
- 3/4 tsp. almond extract
- Dissolve the yeast in warm water in large mixing bowl.
- Stir in egg, milk, sugar and baking mix. Beat well.
- Turn onto well-floured board. Knead about 50 times
- Roll dough into 12" x 10" rectangle. Spread with butter.
- Combine sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over rectangle.
- Sprinkle on raisins.
- Roll up tightly, beginning at 12" side. Seal by pinching edges of dough into roll.
- Cut into 1" slices. Place slices, cut sides down, in well greased muffin cups.
- Cover. Let rise for 30 minutes.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Immediately remove from pan. Let stand 5 minutes.
- Combine powdered sugar, water, and almond extract. Spread over rolls. Serve warm.
Did You Know?
- The three colors of Mardi Gras represent justice (purple), faith (green) and power (gold).
- Mardi Gras is known as "Shrove Tuesday" in Britain and other predominantly Protestant counties. It is sometimes also called "Pancake Day" after the tradition of eating pancakes on that day.