Fat Tuesday can be a fun new tradition for your family to celebrate every year. You don’t need to bring the R-rated wildness into your living room, but you can certainly highlight the culture, music, and food of New Orleans into your home each year. Our family of three have been celebrating Mardi Gras every year since our son was born. We all look forward to it every year, and even though it is on a Tuesday, it is easy to pull a celebration together after a long work day.
Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is the last day to indulge before the beginning of the Christian observance of Lent. Even if you aren’t giving up anything for Lent, or even if you aren’t Christian, consider celebrating Mardi Gras together as as family. Here are a few ideas on how to bring NOLA into your home this year.
You simply cannot have Mardi Gras without music. Stream a Louis Armstrong station to start your jazz and scatting atmosphere. Depending on your child’s age, you can use this opportunity to talk about jazz vocabulary words and instruments (think scat, trumpet, trombone, syncopation, etc.), as well as talk about the instruments that they are hearing. Most importantly – and this is the part that cannot be skipped – dance. Dance around your living room, your kitchen, your bedroom. Play follow the leader and have everyone in your family take turns in leading the dance moves for the rest of the family. Pretend you are playing different instruments, call out the name – trumpet! drums! trombone! – and have everyone do their best interpretation. Teach your kiddos the song “When the Saints Go Marching In”, as this is a Mardi Gras staple.
Mardi Gras, and New Orleans in general, has a fantastic culture. You can recreate the Big Easy right in your home by starting with the music and then adding a few fun details. First, everyone gets beads. Chances are, you already have a pile of beads sitting somewhere in your toy room, left over from birthday party favors or pirate pretend play. Pull those out and be sure everyone wears some. Add feathered masks which you can buy at the Dollar Store or make with paper plates, paint, glue, and a few decorative feathers.
Next, and this is my son’s favorite part, get out the umbrellas. You can certainly spend some time a few days prior decorating an inexpensive umbrella with paint or streamers. Or, you can just pull out the umbrellas you have, open them inside, and twirl them as you walk. My son thinks that his Lightning McQueen umbrella is the ultimate Mardi Gras accessory, even asking if he could pack it when we actually did fly down to NOLA for a friend’s wedding last year. New Orleans is known for its parades and Second Lines, so you simply have to crank up the music, twirl the umbrellas, and have a parade throughout your home and yard. Have everyone take turns leading the parade and sing along to the music.
Finally, New Orleans culture is very welcoming to everyone. This year, our family will be taking our parade – Lightning McQueen umbrella and all – to our neighborhood, parading from house to house to drop off bags full of beads and our favorite Mardi Gras treat, the paczki.
Now that we’re talking about paczkis, my stomach is growling for the most delicious part of our Mardi Gras family celebration – the food. Growing up in central Illinois, I never experienced the paczki, a Polish pastry that is like a donut except more spectacular. When I came to live in the Chicagoland suburbs and worked with many Polish nuns, I learned that you simply cannot have Fat Tuesday come and go without eating a paczki. We have already called ahead to our local bakery to order three dozen. We will decorate paper bags that I have already in my kitchen cabinet, toss a few beads and napkins inside, and then add a few paczkis too. Our neighbors are going to love us.
While paczkis are more common in Chicago’s Fat Tuesday celebrations, you can’t go wrong with other New Orleans fare. You can order a King Cake from a New Orleans bakery to have shipped to your home, or if you don’t have time to do that, you can make cinnamon rolls (homemade or from the tube – no judgment here) and sprinkle purple, green and yellow sprinkles over the melted icing. I mean, I believe the children are our future, and I believe that we should teach them the way of the King Cake.
Finally, for dinner, you can’t go wrong with gumbo or jambalaya. There are plenty of versions of recipes online, from super simple and fast to more authentic and time consuming. There are even cooking camps that can teach kids’ how to make foods like this, see the Cooking Around the World Camp from A Little Yumminess. Not in the mood for gumbo or jambalaya (that’s crazy, but ok), add cajun seasoning to shrimp or salmon, along with some red beans and rice, and you are set to go. Finally, add to the festive atmosphere with cocktails – hurricanes for the adults. For the kids, add a few different juices and call it something fun like a Mardi Gras Mixer or a Big Easy Sipper.
Start small for your Mardi Gras celebration this year, and watch as it grows a bit bigger every year. Let the good times roll!