Mardi Gras Meaning and How To Teach Our Children
Updated: Jul 10
Perhaps no Holiday is more misunderstood than Mardi Gras. Many see it as a time for adults to lose their inhibitions and morals. To some, it is the holiday equivalent to a spring break in Cancun or a bachelor party in Las Vegas. However, to the observers of the Christian holiday and the residents of New Orleans, it is a celebration of indulgence and gathering for a greater cause. Some use it to honor their religion, others to support their community, and most to enjoy time with their family. Understanding the history and traditions of Mardi Gras will place the partying in a greater context, and why it is such a popular family holiday.
When is Mardi Gras?
While there is a set day for Mardi Gras, the festivities happen throughout January and February. It is the festive season of Carnival, culminating in Mardi Gras. Carnival begins on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas, also known as Three Kings Day, and lasts until Mardi Gras. Unlike Christmas, the day of Mardi Gras changes every year. It is held 46 days before Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday’s day is tied to the March Equinox, hence the variation. This year Mardi Gras will be held on February 25.
Can I Bring My Kids to Mardi Gras?
Yes, yes, yes!
Every year hundreds of thousands flock to New Orleans for carnival season, and they’re not all rowdy twenty-year-olds. It’s safe to say most are traveling with their family. The dozens of parades that take place in the carnival season are designed to be family-friendly. Parade floats are colorful, and the people toss beads, toys, and other trinkets with kids in mind. The entire family can enjoy live music and the world-famous New Orleans cuisine.
If you need any more convincing, all schools are closed on Mardi Gras in New Orleans so that kids can enjoy the parades.
The History of Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras has gotten a bad reputation as a celebration of mindless debauchery. It is often featured, along with spring break, as an example of the downfall of our culture, by news pundits to scare parents. It is important not to be misinformed and prohibit you and your family from enjoying a wonderful time celebrating the holiday.
Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, sometimes called Shrove Tuesday. It is celebrated on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday- The First Day of Lent. For many Christians, Lent is a time of religious fasting to commemorate Jesus’s forty-day fast in the Judean Desert. As the last day before the season of Lent, it is known as a time to indulge in the pleasures and foods that would be sacrificed for Lent. Originally, before refrigeration, it meant gathering the family and eating everything in storage that would go bad during the fast, hence the term Fat Tuesday.
On the day before Mardi Gras in 1699, French Explorers discovered Louisiana. They named the land Pointe du Mardi Gras. By the mid-1700s, New Orleans had been found and settled, and the Mardi Gras celebrations were in full swing. However, parades were not yet a feature of the holiday. Elegant masquerade balls held by social clubs were the main event. That tradition had become seeped into the New Orleans Mardi Gras experience, even when the parades were adopted. Colorful costumes and masks are still a part of the festivities, and the parades were still run by social clubs.
In New Orleans, the social clubs responsible for the parades are called Krewes and are formed by locals of New Orleans. Some Krewes date back to the 1800s are primarily responsible for the traditions of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. For example, The Krewe of Rex came up with the official carnival colors of purple, green, and gold. Krewe’s aren’t just party planners. They represent communities in New Orleans hosting local charities and fundraisers.
Enjoying Mardi Gras With Your Kids
Don’t think that to celebrate Mardi Gras, you have to fast until Easter Sunday or have to be subscribed to the Christian faith. Mardi Gras origins may come from Christianity, but ultimately the meaning of Mardi Gras is to gather with the ones you love and feast on the things you enjoy; anyone can do that.
Every krewe has their own traditions and their own trinkets, which they toss from their floats. It’s a pastime to collect as many krewe memorabilia in a season. Make an effort with the family to obtain the trinkets and learn the history of the krewe’s, and you’ll have a better understanding of the holiday with your kids!