Mardi Gras Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

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  • 0:03 What Is Mardi Gras?
  • 0:29 History
  • 1:02 Symbols & Colors
  • 1:32 Famous Celebrations
  • 2:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

You may have heard of the celebration of Mardi Gras, but do you really know how it got started? In this lesson, learn about this holiday's long history, popular traditions, and famous celebrations.

What Is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday that's celebrated the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the Christian season called Lent. During this season, which lasts until Easter Sunday, Christians are supposed to give up bad habits or fast from certain foods. Mardi Gras literally means 'Fat Tuesday' in French. It is a day (and night) to live it up and enjoy one last day of fun before the discipline of Lent.

History

Mardi Gras was originally celebrated in medieval Europe, particularly Italy and France. The first record of a Mardi Gras celebration in the United States is from the early 1700s. Celebrations took place in New Orleans and were more like fancy balls or dances. The carnival atmosphere did not occur until later in the 1700s. The first Mardi Gras parades began in the 1800s, and the king of the parade became a regular symbol of the festivities. Mardi Gras was declared a legal holiday in Louisiana in 1875.

Symbols & Colors

There are many famous symbols that represent this exciting holiday. Many people enjoy a king cake, a sugary dessert that has a plastic baby baked inside. According to tradition, the person who gets the piece of cake with the baby inside will have good luck and prosperity. The beads in Mardi Gras necklaces are often made in the official Mardi Gras colors of gold, which represents power; purple, which represents justice; and green, which represents faith. You may see people wearing masks in these colors as well.

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Additional Activities

Mardi Gras Activity

Narrative Writing: Mardi Gras Traditions

For this activity, you are going to tell a story that is set in a city or country that celebrates Mardi Gras. First, choose a location that is known to celebrate Mardi Gras, including the following:

  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Great Britain
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Australia

The above locations are just options. You can choose any location that celebrates Mardi Gras. Next, research some Mardi Gras traditions that are common in the location you chose. For example, in England, many participate in pancake races. A lot of people in New Orleans wear purple, gold, and green beads and masks as they party in the streets. For this writing assignment, you need to tell a story about one (or more) popular Mardi Gras traditions. Make sure you include multiple characters in your story about Mardi Gras traditions.

Example Idea:

One idea is to tell a story revolving around the French Mardi Gras tradition of Carnival in Nice, France, which includes outdoor feasts, parades, masked balls, masquerades, jugglers, musicians, and people walking on stilts on the streets. In this story, a young boy plans to meet his friend at the parade near his house like they do every year. However, since everyone is wearing masks, he can't find his friend. He isn't at their regular meeting spot. Instead of going home, the young boy decides to watch the parade by himself. He watches the jugglers and the musicians. He even sees a person on stilts almost fall over. Out of the corner of his eye, he believes that he sees his friend walk under a food tent. He follows his friend, but when he gets to the tent, he can't find him. Since he's there, he eats a beignet, a popular Mardi Gras food. Normally, he and his friend go to the center of the city to watch the fireworks, so he wanders over to the fireworks show. He takes off his mask because it's starting to hurt his face. Suddenly, his friend jumps from behind him and scares the life out of him. As it turns out, his friend had been playing a joke on him all along just so that he could sneak up on him and scare him. After the two friends calm down, they watch the amazing fireworks together.

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