If you fantasize about buying a plane ticket to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but your champagne dreams are constrained by a sparkling water budget, here’s how to celebrate in style at home.
Many people want to see the famous Fat Tuesday celebration for themselves—but travel is expensive, and it’s not always possible. However, celebrating Mardi Gras isn’t just limited to those who can be in New Orleans.
This holiday is celebrated all over the world, and you can easily adopt some of its beloved traditions no matter where you are—and it’s easy to plan a memorable Mardi Gras on your own without spending a lot. Here are our favorite ways to get in the Mardi Gras mood this year, no matter how far you are from New Orleans.
Bake a King Cake
According to Mardi Gras tradition, king cake is only available during Carnival season. This sweet pastry is circular like a crown and frosted in the green, yellow, and purple colors of Mardi Gras. A plastic baby is typically baked inside, and whoever finds it is bestowed with luck and special responsibilities.
A few bakeries outside of Lousiana will still make king cake for the season. But if you can’t find one near you, why not bake a king cake of your own? You can share it with friends or family, and decide what will happen to the person who finds the baby inside—you might have them host the next party, or wear a crown for the rest of the night.
You’ll find lots of variations on the traditional king cake recipe online, and some of them are actually super simple.
Order Themed Takeout (Or Make Your Own!)
No time to bake? No problem—get festive takeout instead!
While king cake is a little hard to find in some areas, you can almost certainly find a New Orleans-inspired dish like a po’boy or hushpuppies. In a pinch, any type of fried seafood will feel appropriately Southern.
No good local New Orleans-style takeout? No worries. This absolutely delicious authentic recipe from Tasting Table will help you whip up some po’boys right at home.
Stock Up on Louisiana Brews
Mardi Gras is called Fat Tuesday for a reason—it’s all about eating and drinking the things you’ll be giving up for Lent. Even if you don’t actually celebrate Lent, your Mardi Gras celebration will feel more complete with plenty of on-theme food and drinks.
Fortunately for beer drinkers, Louisiana is home to excellent breweries—some of which distribute far outside the state. Abita is the most well-known Louisiana brewery and known as the beer of Mardi Gras—but there are many others you can look for in a store near you.
Whip Up a Sazerac
Prefer cocktails instead? The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans, making it the perfect choice for Mardi Gras celebrations. In fact, according to (somewhat disputed) legend, the Sazarac was the first cocktail in the U.S.
Strong yet complex, Sazeracs aren’t ideal for those who don’t want to taste their booze. But if you like a boozy cocktail, it’s hard to go wrong with this one—and even harder to go wrong with these great instructions over at Esquire.
Don’t Forget to Decorate
You can also get in the Mardi Gras spirit with a bit of decor. Anything green, gold, or purple will help set the scene, as well as anything glittery.
This is a great opportunity to repurpose old New Year’s Eve decorations, or to hang up some colorful Christmas lights again. Lighting candles will also help make a room feel festive. Remember, Mardi Gras is a lavish celebration, so more is more when it comes to decor.
Make DIY Masks
This is a great idea for a kid-friendly Mardi Gras celebration: Pick up a few inexpensive paper masks and craft supplies for a mask-decorating party.
The masquerade tradition is most often associated with Carnival in Venice and comes from much older European party traditions. Today, donning a Mardi Gras mask is still a great chance to put on an alter ego and have fun with your persona for a night—also an activity kids will love.
Dress the Part
You don’t have to go all-out with Carnival regalia or pile on plastic beads like a college student (unless you want to!). Just like decorating, dressing for Mardi Gras is as easy as grabbing the gold, green, purple, and sparkly pieces from your closet. If you like makeup, those colors can also lend themselves beautifully to a festive eye or lip look.
Feel like you have “nothing” to wear? Let this be your excuse to hit your favorite thrift store and put together a wild Mardi Gras look (also a great group activity).
Watch Mardi Gras Live
Thanks to modern technology, you never have to miss an event like the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. On Fat Tuesday (or on any other day, actually), you can tune into an online live stream of the streets of New Orleans and catch all the action. It’s the perfect thing to play in the background during your Mardi Gras party!
Note: For the 2021 Mardi Gras season things look a little bit different as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but you can check out interesting stories about how people in the Big Easy are celebrating here.
Put on a Mardi Gras Movie
If you want more low-key viewing fare, you can turn on a movie that features Mardi Gras instead. Of course, not every Mardi Gras-themed movie is equally good, but you can check out this list or this one for a few ideas.
Jazz It Up
New Orleans is the city of jazz, so you can’t go wrong with jazz as the soundtrack for an at-home Mardi Gras event. Of course, jazz is an immense genre, so it can be hard to know where to start. This NPR list will kick-start your playlist with some quintessential songs and artists. Or, for a different take on the theme, put on some zydeco. with this mega Spotify playlist.
Pass Out Party Favors
“Throws” are one of the most beloved traditions of the Mardi Gras parade: the coins, beads, and other trinkets thrown from floats to onlookers. If you’re hosting friends (or even just hanging with your family or roommates), why not stock up on a few fun favors to hand out? They don’t necessarily have to be throwaway plastic beads—try glitzy jewelry from the thrift shop, candy, or anything else that’s small, fun, and easy to throw.
Mardi Gras celebrations certainly aren’t limited to New Orleans, and you might actually be able to find a public celebration near you. But if you can’t, or don’t feel like going out, these ideas will have you covered—so no more excuses for missing out on the Fat Tuesday fun.