New Orleans Mardi Gras is famous for colorful parades, but there’s also a world-wide celebrations of Carnival (Carnaval, Carnevale), such as the yearly samba festival in Rio de Janeiro and costumed party-goers in Venice.
Mardi Gras is the French word for “Fat Tuesday” (also called Shrove Tuesday), the last day before Lent, in the seventh week before Easter. As Easter is not the same date each year, Mardi Gras and Carnival end sometime between February to March. These festivals often last for more than one day, with food, music, dancing, parades and costumes.
In New Orleans at Mardi Gras, King Cake is the local treat. It’s a lovely raised-dough cake, decorated with white frosting, and purple, green, yellow sprinkles. Inside the cake is often a figurine of baby Jesus. People eat the cake from Jan. 6 (Epiphany) until Fat Tuesday, after that, it’s traditional to give up things like sweets until Easter.
We baked a King Cake (without a figurine inside), and it was delicious. Here’s the recipe we used: King Cake, but this one does take time on a Saturday afternoon. For a quick, easy to make King Cake, check out the recipe Mardi Gras Activity Book below, or similar recipes online.
Rio de Janeiro
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a giant celebration, and the heart of it is samba. Samba is African-Brazilian dance and music, with a variety of drums, shakers, trumpets, trombones, guitars. Samba schools from different neighborhoods in Rio practice months ahead for Carnival parades. Thousands of performers, gorgeously costumed and accompanied by colorful floats, dance with live music through the Sambadrome parade route – it’s one big party.
Bring home the fun and excitement of Carnival in Rio by listening to samba music on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify or Pandora.
Venice is famous for opulent Carnival masks and costumes. Celebrated in Venice since the 12th century, people go all out for their Carnival apparel. Women wear long gowns in velvets, silks and brocades, men dress like Louis XIV with ruffled shirts and plumed hats. There’s also swirling black cloaks and white masks (most notable, the white plague doctor mask). Children dress up in miniature versions of adult clothing. Here’s photos of masks and costumes at Carnival.
Celebrate Carnival in Venice by making your own masks, half masks or full face. Paint masks white or gold, or cover with foil. Decorate with glitter, sequins, feathers, or lace. Tip: In the book Paper Crafts for Mardi Gras below, find patterns for a butterfly and dragon mask from Venice.
- Recipe for Adventure: Rio de Janeiro by Giada De Laurentiis. One taste of Brazilian cheese buns transports Emilia and Alfie to Rio de Janeiro, just in time for Carnival. They meet up with Miguel, who’s in charge of a children’s parade. Emilia joins a samba dance group, while Alfie takes up drumming, and they perform opening night! Find out about samba schools, explore Rio de Janeiro, and cook two recipes at home. (Chapter book)
- Carnival by Candlelight by Mary Pope Osborne. Jack and Annie are whirled back to Venice 250 years ago, right in the middle Carnival. They’ve got to find the Grand Lady of the Lagoon, a painter named Tiepolo, a clock with the right time, and the winged lion, before a flood destroys Venice. (Easy reader)
- Paper Crafts for Mardi Gras by Randel McGee. Make dragon and butterfly masks, paper bead “throw” necklaces, rhythm maker, gold doubloon necklace, jester’s cap, and golden crown. (Activity book)
- Mardi Gras Activity Book by Karl Jones, Joey Chou. Learn about Mardi Gras traditions, assemble a French Quarter house with parade-goers, decorate Mardi Gras masks, make necklaces and shakers, games and puzzles, follow an easy recipe for King Cake. (Activity book)