Here in New Orleans, it is Lundi Gras (which is French for “Fat Monday,” the Monday before Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday”). The Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Mardi Gras mark the appearance of the “Super Krewes.” On Saturday, Endymion rolls, one of the largest Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. On Sunday, Bacchus, the God of Wine, rolls. Orpheus, orchestrated by New Orleans’ own Harry Connick, Jr., catches the limelight on Monday. All of these “weekend” parades are night parades, illuminated by dazzling displays of fiber optics, animatronics, and huge, colorful floats.
Mardi Gras is a grand spectacle. There’s nothing like it in the world. It’s the world’s biggest free parade. The season kicks off on January 6th, the 12th day of Christmas, the Epiphany. It is during this time that king cakes, one of New Orleans’ most delicious confections, become available. In 1871, the Twelfth Night Revelers made Mardi Gras history when a “king cake” was presented to a woman. Inside was hidden a golden bean, signifying her selection as the “Mardi Gras Queen.” King Cakes are now elaborate creations decorated in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold and stuffed with fruit or cream cheese fillings. Traditionally, inside the King Cake, you will find a small, plastic baby, which represents the Christ Child. The person who gets the “baby” buys the next King Cake.
Another great Mardi Gras tradition are the “throws.” Beads, stuffed animals, doubloons, and other trinkets are flung from the floats by masked riders. Crowds go crazy for these colorful treasures and they are the hallmark of a great parade. Here are some Mardi Gras throws caught by my daughters this past weekend.
So what do we do with all these beads? We give them away to out-of-town friends and family. We string them on our Christmas trees. We craft with them. Check out these Mardi Gras maracas made by me and Eliana, my seven year old.
You can make these too, even if you don’t have Mardi Gras beads. The first one is a clear soda or water bottle filled with beads. You can also fill the bottle with beans, rice, and pasta. The second one, decorated with Valentine stickers is a toilet paper roll. Staple one end shut. Fill it with beads, rice, beans or pasta (less is better for a fuller sound). Staple the remaining opening shut, but staple it in the other direction, forming a triangle.
Another Mardi Gras tradition is for children to create Mardi Gras shoe box floats. Schools and malls often hold shoe box float contests. This season, I helped my six year old, first grader niece, Ashlynn, create a “Valentine” float to celebrate the 100th day of school. On the float we glued 100 candy sweethearts. Yes, there are exactly 100. We counted them six times!
And, there are Mardi Gras beads glued to the float as well. Creating a shoe box float is easy. First, you need a medium-sized shoe box. Cover the shoe box and lid with wrapping or construction paper of your choice. Turn the shoe box upside down so that the opening is on the bottom. The lid of the shoe box is glued to the back of the box, creating a “wall” or a “throne” effect. Now all you have to do is decorate. Choosing a theme, like the Krewes do with the real Mardi Gras floats, is the easiest way to create a cool float. Consider your favorite TV show or cartoon, animals, insects, dinosaurs, dolls (Barbies, Bratz, etc.), holidays, movies, etc. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination!
Happy Lundi Gras, friends. Laissez les bon temps rouler – let the good times roll!