Celebrating Mardi Gras

Catherine Fournier

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is famous around the world for wild costumes, energetic and elaborate parades, parties and dancing in the streets. Unfortunately in recent years, it has evolved from a happy celebration into another excuse for immoral behaviour. Public celebrations of Mardi Gras need to be approached with caution. Few now know that it began as a liturgical celebration with the same roots as the more sedate Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day.

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday. It is actually the final day of the Ordinary Time season which starts on Epiphany and ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is a time of fun and feasting before the penitential season of Lent. The name 'Fat Tuesday' refers to the fact that during Lent, it was traditional to abstain from meat, fat and dairy products. The feasting of Fat Tuesday was to use up all these items.

It might be difficult to have a real Mardi Gras celebration in the home. If your family is going to celebrate the day before Ash Wednesday, it should be with a Shrove Tuesday celebration. But a Mardi Gras party is a great idea for a multifamily gathering in the parish or elsewhere. Here are some suggestions.


The official colors for New Orleans' Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold. These colors where chosen in 1872 by the King of Carnival, Rex. He chose these colors to stand for the following:

  • Purple represents the justice of the King of Kings
  • Green stands for our faith
  • Gold stands for God's power

Decorate with streamers, balloons, paper chains, confetti and whatever else you can think of using these colours. Remember this is a time to 'go overboard' a little in contrast with the season of penance and sacrifice that is coming.


Have each family create a mini-float and join together into a parade. Floats could be made of large boxes or on a wagon. Wearable floats (like those horse and rider costumes you see sometimes) would be fun too.

If the space is large enough, take the tricycles out of winter storage and have tricycle races.

Flamboyant costumes are encouraged. Try eyemasks and headdresses, lots of beads and boas, and wild combinations of colours. Have a guessing game to guess people's identities.

Set out a craft table with lots of supplies to make more masks and headdresses out of paper plates and elastic. Include lots of feathers, sequins, painted pasta shapes, glitter glue, and stickers.

Try to encourage a little bit of silliness, have the parents step outside their role of Mommy and Daddy for a little while and play games with the children.

(Though this has nothing to do with Mardi Gras one of our children's fondest memories is the time I instigated a Jello fight. We had just sold our house, and the entire kitchen was going to have to be cleaned anyway, so I let fly. They loved it! One of my favorite memories of my normally strict and stern father is the time he allowed himself to be tried in a "Kangeroo Court' while on a skiing holiday when I was about eight. My sisters and I accused him of overloud snoring, which was a polite understatement. He was found guilty and sentenced to dance the Hornpipe.)

Revive some of those fun games from childhood, like Blindman's Bluff, Musical Chairs, Egg and Spoon races (use hard boiled eggs indoors!) Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Wheelbarrow Races.

Though it's not strictly seasonal, why not make a Mardi Gras pinata?


The food at a Mardi Gras party should be whatever is considered a real treat. For children this is probably hot dogs and hamburgers - especially if you get that radioactive-green relish to go on them. Ice cream, potato chips, soft drinks chocolate, whatever. Note: roast turkey is a treat, but it is not fun. Try Jamaican patties (spicy meat in a pastry) fahitas, or souflaki.

A traditional Mardi Gras food in New Orleans are King's Cakes. They are a type of cinnamon roll twisted into a large oval and decorated with purple, green and gold sugar sprinkles. Hidden inside the king cake is a plastic model of a baby, representing the Christ Child. This is very similar to the tradition of Epiphany Cake. Traditionally, whoever finds the baby must host the next party.

King Cake

A Traditional New Orleans Recipe

  • 1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 cups flour unsifted
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 stick butter cut into slices and softened, plus 2 tablespoons more softened butter
  • 1 egg slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1" plastic baby doll
  • Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl, and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it.
  • Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes then mix thoroughly.
  • Set bowl in a warm place, for ten minutes or until yeast bubbles up and mixture almost doubles up in volume.
  • Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt, and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest.
  • Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and using a wooden spoon slowly combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture.
  • When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time and continue to beat 2 minutes or until dough can be formed into a medium soft ball.
  • Place ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and knead like bread. During this kneading, add up to 1 cup more of flour (1 tablespoon at a time) sprinked over the dough.
  • When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elasti c.
  • Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with one tablespoon softened butter. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a moderately thick kitchen towel and place in a draft fre e spot for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in volume.
  • Using a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with one tablespoon of butter and set aside.
  • Remove dough from bowl and place on lightly floured surface. Using your fist, punch dough down with a heavy blow and knead it again lightly into a flat disk.
  • Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, pat and shake dough into a cylinder.
  • Twist dough to form a curled cylinder and loop cylinder onto the buttered baking sheet. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle.
  • Cover dough with towel and set it in draft free spot for 45 minutes until the circle of dough doubles in volume.
  • Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Brush top and sides of cake with egg wash and bake on middle rack of oven for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Place cake on wire rack to cool. If desired, at this time, you can "hide" the plastic baby in the cake.
Colored sugars
  • Green, purple, & yellow food colour or paste
  • 12 tablespoons sugar
  • Squeeze a dot of green paste in palm of hand. Sprinke 2 tablespoons sugar over the paste and rub together quickly. Place this mixture on wax paper and wash hands to remove color. Repeat process for other 2 colors. Place aside.
  • 3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 - 6 tablespoons water
  • Combine sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons water until smooth.
  • If icing is too stiff, add more water until spreadable. Spread icing over top of cake.
  • Immediately sprinkle the colored sugars in individual rows consisting of about 2 rows of green, purple and yellow.
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