GRADE LEVEL: 4th-5th

AUTHOR: Natalie Orme



If your understanding of Mardi Gras is anything like mine was, you probably think it was started as another excuse to party. "Actually the root of Mardi Gras in New Orleans reaches back to the history of Greece Rome, and the Christian church." The Greek and Roman influence is observable through the masks and throws they use in the parades and balls. The Christian church established the religious side of Mardi Gras, and the French contributed the name and date on which it is celebrated. "Carnivals started in the middle of the second century in Rome when , y-day fast (Lent) was preceded by many days of feast and voluntary madness." The participants put on masks and clothed themselves like spirits. They gave themselves up to Bacchus and Venus and considered all pleasure acceptable.

Carnival is still practiced in many American cities but not to the extent that it is present in New Orleans carnival, which was started by students in 1827. From 1827 -1839, the Mardi Gras activities were primarily an annual ball. It was not until 1839 that the first Mardi Gras parade became real. It started with one meager float, but was a great success.

Many, like myself, have the misconception that Mardi Gras is a celebration a few days before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Actually, the carnival season begins January 6 (Twelfth Night), with local carnival organizations holding balls almost every night until Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday," started by the French. "Fat Tuesday" received its name by the custom of parading a fat ox through the streets of Paris on Strove Tuesday. Strove Tuesday and Mardi Gras day and the same day. Strove Tuesday is derived from shrive. It refers to the confession of sin, usually in the European middle ages as a preparation for Lent. The Lenten fast is forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays), and is in imitation of Christ's fast in the wilderness. Fish, eggs, meat, and butter are forbidden in eastern churches during the Lent. Now only Ash Wednesday, and Good Fridays are kept as Lenten fast in the west. The two weeks before Mardi Gras Day are filled with parades both day and night, climaxing on Mardi Gras Day with the Rex parade. Carnival organizations in New Orleans are called Krewes. The First krewe was called the "Mystick Krewe of Comus", which began in 1857. The second oldest krewe was started in 1872 and is called "The Krewe of Rex." Krewes, parades, and carnival crowds continues to grow until 1970 when city council put a limitation on the number of parades along the traditional route.

There are many traditions and customs accompanying Mardi Gras and carnival season. One of these is the custom of throws. Many hours are spent on the production of beads and trinkets to be given away at the parade. Some throws are unique such as doubloons. Throwing doubloons was introduced in 1960 by Rex. Since then collecting them has become a major hobby. A doubloon is a coin like object about the size of a U.S. silver dollar. Doubloons usually contain the symbol of the krewe on one side and the year and theme of the parade on the other. Another tradition is the wearing of masks. This tradition was started back in the ninth and tenth century when peasants would travel from farm to farm to beg for food. The mask protected their identity and dignity. Street masking became common in 1835 as an excuse to participate in the merry making of the day. New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrants take great pleasure in their hidden identity. Every year a king and queen are chosen for the festivities. "The Twelfth Night Revelers, a New Orleans krewe uses the king cake tradition to choose their queen and her court. The artificial king cake holds twelve drawers. Eleven drawers have silver beans in them and the twelfth holds a gold one. The lucky girl choosing the drawer with the gold bean is crowned queen, while the girls choosing the drawers with the silver beans serve as her court. The Cajun king cake contains a red bean, symbolizing planting and harvesting. The man getting the slice of cake containing the bean is king for the day (or week). The final tradition I am going to present is the balls. Only members of the krewes can attend these lavish balls. The participants of Mardi Gras who are not invited to the balls have a celebration of their own on the streets of New Orleans. The street parties are what we most often read or see pictures of in relation to Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is not only celebrated regionally but also internationally, occurring in South America, Europe, and other parts of the world.

Mardi Gras like many other celebrations started as a religious festival preceding lent, but that has since been over shadowed by the excitement of a secular holiday.



*Blackwell, M. (1993, November/ December). Cultural Differences Taught through a Regional Holiday. SS&YL Vol. 6 No. 2 Pg. 9-12.

*World Book Encyclopedia (1984). Mardi Gras. Chicago, IL: Scott Fetzer Company.

*Internet Commerce Corp. (1996) Carnival, New Orleans. [On-line]. Available: http//www. Icorp.net/carnival/

*Cech, M. (1991). Globalchild: Multicultural resources for young children. NewYork: Addison-Wesley.



* Students will be able to understand why carnivals and Mardi Gras became a famous celebration.

* Students will be able to present to their group information about various carnival and Mardi Gras related topics.

* Students will be able to reproduce some of the traditions and customs related to Mardi Gras.

* Students will be able to write a persuasive paper (their point of view),why or why not we should continue to celebrate Mardi Gras.


TIME ALLOTMENT: Approximately 9-10 class periods plus homework. (This includes activities that can be done in art and language art time.)



*Activity B: Four signs (1. eat junk food all day 2. eat normal amount 3. eat less than normal 4. stop that day).

*Activities E,H,I: Junk to decorate and create with. (E.G. beads, lace, fringe, material, flowers, tempera paint, glitter, raffia, etc..)

*Activity E: Paper mache or cast plaster

*Activity K: 2 King cakes (see appendix for recipe)

*Activity L: Enough taffy (any cheap candy) for each child in the school to have one piece.



A. Survey. The day before you start the mini-unit, on Mardi Gras, have the students take a survey. Have them ask 5-10 people how they believe Mardi Gras was started, or what is the purpose of the celebration. The first day of the unit ask the students to share some of their answers. Do not tell them if their answers are right or wrong.

B. Four Corners. Make four signs containing 1. eat junk food all day, 2. eat normal amount, 3. eat less than normal, 4. stop that day. Give the students a scenario. Ask them what they would do if I told them, starting tomorrow for a month they can not eat any candy or junk food. Since it starts tomorrow today is free to do as you please, what would you do? Tell them to look at the signs, and stand next to the one that supports their opinion. Have the students in each group talk about why they chose that category. Then have the groups share with the class why they chose the specific category.

C. Mini-Lecture. Tell students this concept of giving something up on a certain day, and living it up before is the basic concept of carnivals. ("Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die") Explain some of the basic ideas of Mardi Gras and how it got started at this time. Do not tell them too much, leave some wonder so you can lead into the jig saw activity.

D. Jig-Saw. Split your students up so you have six students in each group. Give each student in the group a different topic related to Mardi Gras and carnivals. You may choose to use topics such as: Carnival (entire period of balls and parades), Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), krewes (Comus and Rex), mask (history of them and purpose in the festivities),Lent and Strove Tuesday, Doubloons and other throws. To gather information regarding these topics refer to the references. Type out or copy information for the students regarding their topic. Let the students know that their participation is vital to their group success. Let the students study their topic either over night or in class. Before they present the information to their group let them get in expert groups (every one with the same topic) and discuss what they learned from the information. Then they go back to their original groups and each take 5 minutes to present their information to the group. Assessment for this activity can be a quiz or questions orally.

E. Masks. **You will want to start this project at the beginning of the week so you can have many layers and it can dry.** Have the students make a mask to wear in the parade. These can be made with paper mache or cast plaster. Let the students design and decorate their own. Have each student show their mask to the class.

F. Krewe Introduction. Divide the students into groups of 4-5, each group is a krewe. The group needs to come up with a name and a theme for their krewe.

G. Doubloons. Have each krewe design a doubloon that reflects their theme. They need to make a rough draft and then draw and color it on nice paper. Have the krewe present their name, theme, and doubloon to the rest of the class.

H. Throws. Have each krewe develop a throw. This could vary from a necklace to a picture. Each student in the krewe needs to have one. It should be kept until the last day. (These will not be given away at the parade, it would be to expensive.) Let each krewe explain what they made and why.

I. Floats. Have each krewe create their own float using a wagon, skate board, bike, anything that can roll (a shoe box may be used if nothing else if available). The float decorations need to follow the theme of the krewe. The floats will be shared at the parade.

J. Persuasive Paper. Using the information the students have learned through all the activities have them complete a writing assignment. This writing assignment is a persuasive paper regarding: why or why not Mardi Gras should continue to be celebrated. This is strictly an opinion paper, but either way they need to include at least three facts about Mardi Gras and carnivals.

K. King Cake. This can be done at any time through out the unit. This is a tradition that originated in the medieval times. They represented the gift of the Magi to the Christ Child. They have become as much a part of Mardi Gras celebration as floats and parades. The tradition is that each cake contains a bean or plastic baby and who ever gets it in their piece brings the next cake.

L. Parade. Have each krewe get their float and masks to show in the parade. Divide up the candy into bags for each class, one piece for each child (tell the teacher there will be one for each student). Have your students walk the halls like a parade. If possible have all students in the halls, if not have your students go in the classroom.

M. Open Discussion. Discuss with the students what they have learned about Mardi Gras and carnivals: how it got started, some of the traditions, and when and where it occurs.



*Verbal assessment (questions)

*Jig-Saw will be assessed.

*Produce: doubloons, masks, trinkets, and floats, these will be assessed.

*persuasive papers will be assessed (three facts about Mardi Gras and Carnivals).




King Cake Recipe

3 cups flour 1/4 cup warm water

1/4 cup margine 4 teaspoons dry yeast

1 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup scalded milk

1/2 cup sugar 1 egg

Dissolve yeast in water. Add milk and sugar, salt, egg, margarine, and half the flour. Mix until smooth. Add the rest of the flour and knead. Place in a greased bowl and cover. Allow it to rise. Divide the dough into three parts, roll it into tubes and braid. Make a wide ring of the braid, Sprinkle with Mardi Gras colored sugar (yellow, purple, green). Insert a plastic baby or bean. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Enjoy!

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