Celebrating Mardi Gras in French class (February 21!)

Mardi Gras in French class

Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, is a festive holiday that is celebrated around the world, but perhaps most famously in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is a time for people to let loose, have fun, and enjoy all the rich cultural traditions that come with the holiday. The holiday is also known as “fat Tuesday” due to the practice of using up fatty foods that weren’t allowed to be consumed once Lent started.

As a French teacher, I love to incorporate Mardi Gras into my lessons and give my students the opportunity to learn about and celebrate this holiday. Not only does it add an element of fun and cultural immersion to our class, but it also gives my students a deeper understanding and appreciation for French culture and traditions.

How I introduce Mardi Gras to my students

One way that I celebrate in my French class is by teaching my students about the history and traditions of the holiday. Mardi Gras has its roots in ancient Roman times. The celebration of fertility and the spring were adapted to a Christian holiday of indulgence before the start of the season of Lent. The holiday season is known as Carnval and Mardi Gras just happens to be the final day of the season. The season ends at midnight, as the Wednesday after Mardi Gras is Ash Wednesday, a time of repentance and sacrifice.

I also introduce my students to some of the traditional symbols of Mardi Gras, such as the fleur-de-lis, which represents the Virgin Mary and is often seen on floats and decorations. Another iconic symbol of this holiday is the mask, which is worn by many people during the celebrations as a way to conceal their identity and join in the fun. We talk about the colors of the holiday and their significance.

During the pandemic, the celebrations were toned down. The people of New Orleans were unable to have big parties and parades, so instead of going to a parade with floats, people decorated their homes and the parade came to them! They called it “Yardi Gras” and some of the homes were simply amazing.

One of the most fun parts of “fat Tuesday” is the food, and I like to bring this aspect into my French class as well. I teach my students about some of the traditional Mardi Gras foods, such as king cake, beignets, and gumbo. I share a recipe for the king’s cake and we compare it to the galette des rois that is eaten in France for l’Epiphanie and the rosca de reyes that is eaten in Mexico. As most of my students are of Mexican descent, they are already familiar with the practice of putting the fève in the dessert!

In addition to all of these activities, I also like to use Mardi Gras as an opportunity to teach my students some of the French phrases and vocabulary related to the holiday. Laissez les bons temps rouler is the motto of the holiday, but we also learn words for things like mask, float, beads and the different foods.

While it is been a little bit more difficult to obtain beads cheaply in the past couple of years, one of my favorite traditions is giving students beads. I tell them that if they want a strand of beads, they can do one of three things: tell me an interesting thing that I didn’t already know, tell me a joke, or show me a talent that they have. In the past I’ve heard LOTS of bad jokes, but I’ve also had a student sing the Black M song Sur ma Route – entirely in French!

Frenchified items for Mardi Gras

If you’re looking for some fun activities for Mardi Gras, I’ve got several things in the Frenchified store. For a challenge, your students might enjoy the digital escape game. I also have a simpler trivia game that you can play as a class or individually. If you’re looking for some fun things that bring the holiday to your classroom, you could also use the digital agenda slides or digital stickers.

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