Whether you’re a New Orleans native missing one of your favorite traditions this year or you just can’t get out to party on a weeknight, there are plenty of fun ways to celebrate Mardi Gras at home! You don’t even need to spend a lot to celebrate with close friends and family, especially if you’re trying to keep your Mardi Gras party small and manageable.

Are you counting down the days until you can experience Fat Tuesday festivities in person? Start your planning and preparations now with some of the Mardi Gras party decorating tips, craft and costume ideas and recipes below!

What is Mardi Gras? 

While many in the U.S. associate Mardi Gras with several days of colorful parties and raucous celebrations in New Orleans, the history of the holiday actually goes back centuries. What does Mardi Gras celebrate specifically though, and what are some popular Mardi Gras traditions?

Contemporary Mardi Gras traditions evolved out of a Roman pagan holiday during which normal daily routines and social norms were ignored in favor of rowdy celebrations and revelry. This often includes indulgent activities like eating and drinking, dancing, and dressing in colorful costumes, often outdoors in public settings like the famous French Quarter. The attitude of general revelry is an important part of the meaning of Mardi Gras, which is intended to serve as an outlet for self indulgence and various excesses right before the start of Lent.

When is Mardi Gras Celebrated? 

Technically Mardi Gras is celebrated on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday each year, which means it occurs the day before the beginning of Lent. In places where Mardi Gras is especially widely celebrated and culturally important, people may observe the holiday for days or even a week or more prior to its official date.

The reason Mardi Gras is celebrated on a different date each year traces back to the history of the holiday. As Mardi Gras traditions were assimilated into the Christian holiday calendar they became part of the longer celebration of Carnival, which begins on Twelfth Night (January 6). Mardi Gars began to serve as a kind of final hurrah and period of indulgence marking the end of Carnival right before the beginning of Lent. That’s why Mardi Gras is celebrated on the day before Ash Wednesday each year. (It even means “Fat Tuesday” in French!)

(And while you’re kicking off the Lent season, why not plan ahead for your Easter get-together, and learn what to fill your kids’ Easter baskets with?)

Hosting a Mardi Gras Party at Home 

While you might not be able to experience the full energy of a parade down Bourbon Street, there are many fun traditions you can incorporate into your own Mardi Gras party at home. From making or ordering traditional foods to some festive (and easy) decorations, you can give your Mardi Gras celebrations some real New Orleans flair.

  • Beads, Crowns, and Mardi Gras Colors: Beads are an iconic part of Mardi Gras festivities, and you can easily pick up sets of beaded necklaces and some disposable crowns in the traditional holiday colors of purple, green, and yellow. Want to add an extra festive outdoor touch to your at-home celebrations? Bring the colors of Mardi Gras home with purple flowers!
  • Mardi Gras Playlist: Jazz, brass, zydeco, and second-line music are some of the most common tunes to hear during a Mardi Gras party. You can find plenty of curated playlists out there to get you in the mood, or spend some time to create your own!
  • Drink Menu: Just because you can’t walk through the French Quarter with a festive libation doesn’t mean you can’t whip up some New Orleans specials for you and your guests. Come up with a short list of Mardi Gras cocktails like the famous Sazerac or hurricane, or stock up your home bar with Louisiana beers and spirits.

How to Make a Mardi Gras Mask 

Elaborate masks and costumes are a huge part of Mardi Gras celebrations. From the flashy colors and sparkling fabrics to the elaborate headpieces featuring feathers and other accessories, few things capture the chaotic joy of a Mardi Gras parade like the unique attire. Besides their traditional role in representing fairies, animals, and various other mythical figures, costumes are a great way to recreate the spirit of a live Fat Tuesday party in your own home.

If you want to buy some basic masquerade masks ahead of time, having your guests create their own Mardi Gras masks can be a fun party activity. Just set out various feathers, plastic gems and glitter, acrylic paint, and other craft supplies. You can even make masks out of construction paper and elastic cord if the kids want to join in on the fun!

What Foods or Snacks Do You Make for Mardi Gras? 

Mardi Gras dishes traditionally feature rich, fatty foods and decadent sweets like king cake. Whether you want to order from a local Cajun restaurant or pick out a few recipes to make yourself, you can’t go wrong with the following foods for a Mardi Gras party:

  • King cake
  • Beignets
  • Gumbo or jambalaya
  • Red beans and rice
  • Oyster po’boys
  • Hot muffuletta

Decorating Your Mardi Gras Celebration 

Purple, green, and yellow are the traditional Mardi Gras colors, so it’s not hard to make your home feel like a jubilant New Orleans street corner with a little decorating. Try picking up several strands of string lights, one or two in each of the above colors. You can also find special Mardi Gras decoration lights that come in themed shapes or patterns. Streamers or beads, tablecloths, and balloons can also help you turn your home into a festive Mardi Gras celebration.

Additionally, the Fleur de Lis (representing the lily flower) is often used in Mardi Gras celebrations, especially in areas with strong French heritage. Many places that sell Mardi Gras decorations also have wreaths, centerpieces, or other representations of the Fleur de Lis to help with your party planning. Can’t find a Fleur de Lis for your celebration? ProFlowers makes it easy to have lily arrangements and yellow bouquets delivered directly to your door!