Laissez les bons temps rouler! In New Orleans, "let the good times roll" is a saying that encapsulates Mardi Gras. In the Southern U.S.—and in other countries, including Brazil and Italy—Mardi Gras is one of the most exciting times of the year, filled with parades, balls, beads, masks, and flavorful food. The date for Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, changes every year, but it is always 46 days before Easter.
Mardi Gras, or Carnival, season begins on Jan. 6, the Twelfth Night, and runs until Ash Wednesday. It's a time for rejoicing because Fat Tuesday is the day before Lent begins. For Catholics, the weeks leading up to Easter are traditionally spent fasting or giving up luxuries. So Mardi Gras offers one last chance to indulge. For 2021, COVID-19 restrictions might limit festivities in your area, but there are still ways to celebrate.
Here are some ways to commemorate the occasion with a Mardi Gras-themed party at home.
Decorations and Party Favors
Part of the fun of Mardi Gras season is creating fabulous costumes and float decorations. Consider making your own decorations and party favors for your Mardi Gras party. Here are some ideas for do-it-yourself decor:
Incorporate Mardi Gras Colors
There are three colors associated with Mardi Gras: purple (symbolizes justice), green (symbolizes faith), and gold (symbolizes power). Using this color scheme, you can make your beads, masks, and other decor rather than relying on store-bought merchandise.
Children of all ages will enjoy making purple, green, and gold Mardi Gras masks. Set up a craft station with supplies to make masks, miniature floats, foam crowns, or jester hats. Old shoeboxes can easily be repurposed as miniature Mardi Gras floats, decorated with feathers, glitter, and the like. Engage kids in the decorating process by asking them to make confetti using a paper punch on construction paper. Many craft stores carry paper punches in unique shapes. Together, decorate your house or yard with purple, green, and gold streamers.
The rich colors associated with Mardi Gras can spruce up any room. Consider displaying fancy purple, green, and gold candles and candle holders around your living room or bedroom. Make paper chains with the color scheme, and hang them from the doorway. Or string up purple, green, and gold twinkle lights.
Recreate a Parade Atmosphere
The excitement of waiting for a Mardi Gras parade is tough to replicate. But there are ways to incorporate parade elements into your party.
Make doubloons (the gold coins often tossed at parades along with beads) by cutting small circles out of paper or lightweight cardboard and painting them gold. Make treasure sacks to put all your goodies in. Also, create Mardi Gras noisemakers or other musical crafts. After all, the more noise you make, the more beads are tossed your way at a parade.
What to Serve
You and your guests can also have some fun in the kitchen on Mardi Gras. Put some New Orleans jazz or funk tunes on the record player, and get to cooking. You can't go wrong with these crowd-pleasing Cajun and Creole classics:
- King Cake: This oval-shaped pastry is filled with cinnamon and sugar and decorated with icing topped with green, purple, and gold (or yellow) colored sugar. There are many variations of the cake, such as filling it with cream cheese or chocolate. But one constant remains: a tiny plastic baby hidden inside. Consider providing a prize for the guest who receives the slice with the baby.
- Jambalaya: If you like paella, chances are you'll love jambalaya. This Spanish-influenced rice dish originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans and typically contains chicken, sausage, shrimp, vegetables, and plenty of spice. There are easy versions that can be cooked in a slow cooker or Instant Pot.
- Gumbo: Like jambalaya, gumbo is another Southern staple. A slow-cooked roux is necessary for a perfect gumbo, so make sure to set aside plenty of time for preparing Louisiana's official state cuisine. Remember to provide hot sauce (preferably a New Orleans favorite, such as Crystal or Tabasco) for guests to add some spice to their dish.
- Red beans and rice: This humble dish involving dried red beans and Andouille sausage is traditionally enjoyed on Mondays in New Orleans. Simple yet delicious, it is a fail-free dish that can work as an entree or side.
- Pralines: This sugary dessert is sinfully delicious and therefore ideal as a pre-Lent treat. You just need pecans, butter, cream, sugar (lots of it!), and vanilla.
- Hurricanes: Transport your guests to the French Quarter with the neighborhood's most-ordered drink. A classic Hurricane cocktail pairs light and dark rum with passion fruit syrup and lime juice for a refreshing, celebration-worthy concoction.