Mardi Gras, in its raucous rum-and-Bourbon Street glory, is not typically thought of as a family-centered holiday. However, celebrating Fat Tuesday with your family can be fun to look forward to in the dreary winter months, when tulip blooms and Easter baskets are still weeks away. Mardi Gras—French for "fat Tuesday"—is the day before Ash Wednesday, which Christians around the world observe as the beginning of Lent. By tradition, Fat Tuesday is marked by eating richer foods before Lenten fasting begins, as well as a last chance to throw a wild party. This year, Mardi Gras falls on March 4. While you can choose to celebrate on that day, you can also celebrate it all week long, doing one special activity or meal each day. The key is to have fun and create some memories with your family, not to be stressed out. Do yourself a favor and step away from Pinterest—aim for fun, not for perfection. Here are a few family-friendly ideas to get you started:
Mardi Gras is nothing without food! At our home in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, it simply is not Fat Tuesday without a paczki, a Polish pastry similar to a doughnut that will rock your world. I can find paczki at our local Polish bakery or even at our local grocery store. (You might need to order this traditional Mardi Gras treat ahead of time.) If you can't find paczki, a Bavarian cream-filled donut will work just fine. Enjoy a paczki in the morning to start the day off right. In the evening, continue your celebration by making jambalaya or gumbo, or ordering takeout.
Drinks and Dessert
My preschooler son loves any kind of drink that I name something different and serve in a unique cup or with a swirly straw. At our house, on Fat Tuesday we make "hurricanes," which consists of me tossing in whatever juices we have in the fridge, a little water to thin it out, and some chunks of fruit. I serve it in a purple or green cup, add a little drink umbrella and a straw, and we are good to go. For dessert, consider having a New Orleans-style king cake: a circle-braided pastry topped with frosting and colored sugar in classic Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, and yellow. You can make one, or you can order one to be shipped to your door directly from a New Orleans bakery if you think ahead. You can duplicate something like this in a fluted tube pan, or you can choose to keep it simple and make cupcakes with purple, green, and yellow frosting. Either way, your family will enjoy the change of pace.
All That Jazz
What would Mardi Gras be without New Orleans jazz? For older kids, use this holiday as a chance to send them on a YouTube scavenger hunt for different renditions of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Have them find a few of their favorites, and then spend some time learning about the artists together. For smaller kids, listening to Cajun jazz music on Pandora or YouTube can lead to some living room dancing that will give them some indoor exercise and leave them hungry for your Mardi Gras menu.
Have a Parade
My favorite part of Mardi Gras at our house is our "parade." Our family of three decorates a float, and then we take turns pushing and pulling it through the kitchen to the joyful beat of Cajun music. Grab a wagon, your plastic toddler car from the garage, doll strollers, or even the a toy grocery cart and let your imaginations run wild. Decorate it with some streamers (purple, yellow, green, and white), feathered boas, and construction paper. You can wear feathered masks from your local dollar or party store—and don't forget lots of beaded necklaces to throw to the adoring crowd.
Consider making this worldwide celebration part of your family tradition every year. You can adjust your celebrations to fit the age and abilities of your changing family. As your family matures, you can spend time learning more about the rich history of New Orleans, the history of Fat Tuesday or about how the day is celebrated in other cultures. With so many traditions of food and music and celebration to draw upon, you can create a Mardi Gras tradition in your family that's truly your own.