If there’s one thing zebras love, it’s a celebration!
And when it’s Mardi Gras, which is all about local traditions, food, family and friends–well, that makes us so happy that our stripes start to turn colors.
Purple, green and gold, to be exact.
In New Orleans, Mardi Gras celebrations are the most colorful parties of the year.
In fact, you’ll see the signature purple, green and gold just about everywhere you look.
Why purple, green and gold? Well, each color has a special meaning: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
These became the celebration’s official colors back in 1872, when the first Mardi Gras parade brightened the streets of New Orleans.
“But what IS Mardi Gras?” you may ask. In French (which plays a big part in New Orleans history), Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday.”
This is the last day before the traditional Catholic observance of Lent, when it’s customary to stop eating decadent foods until Easter.
So everyone says good-bye to decadence by indulging in a GIANT party, where even the grown-ups get to act like kids. People dress up in costumes and go to parades and eat lots of super-yummy foods.
To get some true insider info about Mardi Gras, I talked to my buddy Liz Williams, President and Director of the SoFAB (Southern Food & Beverage) Institute in New Orleans.
Liz grew up in New Orleans, too, so she’s a total Mardi Gras expert!
When I asked Liz why Mardi Gras is such a big deal for New Orleans kids and families, she gave me three great reasons.
“Mardi Gras is a tradition, which is a perfect way to continue history and share a special experience with your family and friends.
It’s a magical celebration that everyone can enjoy together, remembering old times and creating wonderful new memories.
Best of all, Mardi Gras is fun, fun, FUN!”
New Orleans is world-famous for its amazing food, so I figured there might be some fun edible traditions that go with Mardi Gras. And hurray: I was right!
Liz told me that the most legendary Mardi Gras treat is called King Cake. “Everyone loves King Cake,” she said. “And it’s something we eat ONLY at Mardi Gras.”
At this point I wondered: “Is a King Cake something kings eat? Or is it something that makes you a king when you eat it?” It turns out that both of these are sort of true.
King Cakes have been a New Orleans tradition since the mid-19th century, as French settlers continued a custom dating back to 12th century France.
King Cakes aren’t actually cakes, but more like Danish pastries in festive masquerade (perfect for Mardi Gras). They’re decorated with a sugar topping in classic Mardi Gras colors—and the secret ingredient of every cake is the prize hidden inside.
It started out as a humble coin, dried bean or pea. In the late 1800s, wealthy Louisiana landowners were known to use precious jewels. By the mid 20th century, the typical King Cake prize became a small porcelain or plastic baby.
One thing has stayed the same over the centuries: whoever gets the prize in his or her slice of cake is crowned king (or queen) for a day.
The lucky winner is granted the gift of good fortune – and has the honor of providing a cake for their friends and family to enjoy at the next Mardi Gras celebration.
Well, colorful treats with prizes sounded really good to me. But I couldn’t help wondering: is that ALL people eat during Mardi Gras?
“Oh, no,” Liz said. “There’s much more! We all also eat gumbo, red beans and rice, fried chicken and other traditional New Orleans foods, both at the parades and at parties in people’s homes.”
I asked Liz how she and her family celebrated Mardi Gras when she was a kid.
“My family always went to parades at Mardi Gras. On Mardi Gras day, we would dress in costumes and walk around and see people we knew. Later, I did this with my own children—and now, with my granddaughter Olivia.
She’s still pretty little, so can’t walk around on her own yet, but she enjoys the lights and costumes. And of course, she knows how to put on beads and take them off over her head.”
It turns out that Mardi Gras beads are another super-fun part of the celebration.
During the parades, the Mardi Gras krewes (which are special clubs) toss colorful strings of beads off the floats for people to catch. There are lots of other cool trinkets, too!
For decades, the most famous prizes of all were the Zulu coconuts from the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. These days, there are so many people at the parades that tossing coconuts can get kind of dangerous, so this isn’t done any more. But lots of grown-ups have fond memories of catching them!
If you’re like me, you might be thinking: well, this sounds like a blast! But I don’t live in New Orleans—is there a way to celebrate Mardi Gras at home?
“Of course!” Liz said. “Eating New Orleans food is a great way to celebrate–especially King Cake. You can look through cookbooks or browse the web to find fun, kid-friendly recipes.
Kids can also make floats from shoe boxes and tie a long ribbon to the box. Dress in a costume, then make your own parade by pulling your floats behind you.”
Are you ready for ZePerfect Mardi Gras celebration?
Then put on your costume, have a parade, try this super-festive King Cake recipe – and share the fun with your family and friends.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!!! (That’s French for: Let ZeGood Times Roll!)
RECIPE: Super-Easy Mardi Gras King Cake
If you want to try making your own King Cake, Liz Williams says there are lots of good recipes on the web. If you’re looking for a super-fun and very easy way to bring home a taste of New Orleans, you can make pretend King Cakes, just like the kids at SoFAB did in their Mardi Gras class.
What You Need:
For each pretend King Cake:
1 plain cake-style or glazed doughnut
1/4 cup sugar glaze (just mix up 1/2 cup of powdered sugar & 2 tablespoons of milk or water in a small bowl)
Decorating sugars (purple, green and gold are traditional, but feel free to get as creative as you like)
A tiny plastic baby (or use a dried bean or a colorful jelly bean)
What You Do:
1. Drizzle the doughnut with your glaze (you probably won’t need to use it all).
2. Decorate your doughnut with purple, green and gold sugars (or use sprinkles, candies and anything else you like).
3. Put your baby or jelly bean in the center.