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Last Updated: Apr 21st, 2011 - 14:44:53 

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras
By Sarah Lane, Cynthia Kirkeby
Jan 21, 2011, 11:14 PST

Mardi Gras

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Mardi Gras is always 47 days prior to Easter Sunday, so the date can fall between February 3 and March 9 depending on the calculations done by the Catholic Church. This holiday came to New Orleans in 1699 with the French explorer Iberville.  The official colors for the holiday were chosen in 1872.  They are purple, gold, and green.   Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.


Although many people think of Fat Tuesday as the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, the celebration actually starts a full two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday!  Businesses close on Fat Tuesday and the Monday before, which is called Lundi Gras or Fat Monday.  Lundi Gras was popular in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century and it celebrated the arrival of the Rex Organization's "King of the Carnival" on the Mississippi River.  It was brought back to popularity in 1987, but it died out quickly by the end of the decade.




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Krewes (non-profit organizations), such as the Krewes of Muses, host parades and balls in honor of Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.  The parades are a big part of the celebration of Mardi Gras.  Krewes pick a king and a queen who will reign for that parade.  The Krewes themselves originated from private social clubs with restrictive membership policies.  They used to create parades and floats with social and political themes, and the King and Queen were kept a secret until the day of the parade.  The route of the parade was often kept a secret as well.  More modern Krewes, such as the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, have unique traditions such as the hand decorated coconut throw, which few people catch when thrown from the floats.  Their organizations are open, not secretive, and they often feature celebrities on their floats.


Floats are decorated depicting different themes and most parades have at least 15 floats.  The rest of the Krewe members ride on the floats and throw beads, doubloons (metal coins the size of silver dollars stamped with the Krewes emblem and their current theme), cups (8 to 10 oz. also with the Krewes emblem and theme for the year), and trinkets to the crowd.  Trinkets can be candy, Frisbees, flowers, balls, whistles, or stuffed animals.  When collecting the doubloons it is a tradition to stomp on them to claim them.




King Cakes are a very important part of the Mardi Gras tradition.  The cakes are similar to cinnamon rolls twisted into large ovals, covered in white icing, and sprinkled with sugar dyed purple, green, and gold (the traditional Mardi Gras colors).  Hidden in the cake is a plastic baby the size of an almond.  The person who finds the baby is the next queen or king and must host the next King Cake party.


Another tradition are the Costume Balls.  They are usually a private and formal affair for the Krewes.  The older, more aristocratic Balls are by invitation only.  These invitations are greatly sought after and are considered valuable works of art and collector's items.


Most importantly, Mardi Gras is a family celebration.  The food, music, parades, and crowds are all part of the fun.  It's true that the evenings can get a bit risque; but that all depends on to which part of the city you venture.  Overall it lives up to its name as the "Greatest Free Show on Earth".

Source:     Mardi Gras on the Net & Compucast


Mardi Gras Worksheets

Mardi Gras Word Search

Finding something at Mardi Gras could be very difficult.  See how many of these words you can find in our Mardi Gras puzzle.

Mardi Gras Word Jumble

Everything is tumbled and jumbled up at Mardi Gras.  Can you help us unjumble these words?


Additional Learning Links


The Tulane Carnival Collection

Browse through this amazing collection of historic invitations, float designs, and Mardi Gras costumes dating back to the 1880's.

Source:     The Tulane Manuscript Department, of the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library

Reading Level:   Moderate


How Does Mardi Gras Work?

If you are trying to figure out Mardi Gras lingo, browse through the glossary on this site.  After you have an idea of the language used, browse through the costumes, the parades, and the history of the event.

Source:     HowStuffWorks

Reading Level:   Moderate


Mardi Gras on the Net

Here you will find the history of Mardi Gras, information about the parades, trinkets & beads, the tradition of King Cakes, e-greeting cards to send to friends and extra goodies.

Source:     Holidays on the Net

Reading Level:   Moderate


Mardi Gras, New Orleans

Read about the history, costume balls, throws, colors, dates, schedule of parades, and informative articles.  See video clips of parades, floats, and celebrities in costume.  You can link to Krewe pages, Mardi Gras art, or books for more information.  Check the bottom of the homepage for an overview of New Orleans.

Source:     Compucast

Reading Level:   Advanced



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