What do you get when you combine lavish costumes, dancing, and parades? Mardi Gras, of course! Mardi Gras is also known as “Fat Tuesday, which takes place the day before Ash Wednesday, a religious holiday that signifies the beginning of Lent when people repent their sins. This Christian holiday has turned into a popular cultural event in different countries around the world where it’s known as Carnival. The most popular celebrations occur in Brazil, Venice and New Orleans.

On March 3, 1699, two French explorers – Iberville and Bienville – landed in modern day Louisiana, United States. They called the place “Point due Mardi Gras.” During the days before Lent, people would stuff themselves with meat, eggs, milk and cheese before fasting.  Over time, as people settled in the area, more parties, lavish dinners, and masquerade balls were held. Some dressed in bright colorful costumes and danced in the streets. Others built floats and marched through the streets playing music. No wonder why New Orleans is the capital of Mardi Gras in the U.S!

In Brazil, Carnival dancers, costumes, floats, and musicians parade through the street for days. In Denmark, Fastevlan is similar to Halloween in that children dress up and constantly ask for candy every day until Easter Sunday morning. Other international versions of Mardi Gras include the Quebec Winter Carnival in Canada, Carnevale in Italy, and Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching in Germany.

Introducing Mardi Gras to students can be done in many fun ways:

  • Use a Venn diagram or chart to compare and contrast Mardi Gras with Carnival or other international celebration
  • Create masks and decorate them with glitter, sequence and other items
  • Use dry beans or plastic beads to make a necklace
  • Play New Orleans style jazz and other music related to the holiday. Have students practice dances from different places where Mardi Gras or Carnival is celebrated.
  • Have students hold a Mardi Gras parade around the room
  • Survey about their favorite indulgences. Then create a pie chart or bar graph with the data.
  • Find foods eaten at Mardi Gras or Carnival. Have students follow a recipe and create the dishes. Hold a mock Mardi Gras or Carnival celebration topped off with a parade!
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