Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mardi Gras Lingo

It occurred to me while I was writing my weekly update last week that these Mardi Gras terms I throw around, like Krewe and Throws, may be completely foreign to you.  So I thought I'd consult the ultimate Mardi Gras source, Mr. Arthur Hardy, for some help in defining commonly used MG terms.  You can find more on his website by clicking here...  Also, I will be posting my weekly update this evening featuring some of my favorite throws from years past.  Since our theme is a secret, I cannot reveal this year's throws until next week.  Are you dying to found out what it is?!?!  It's very cute this year!

Ash Wednesday: The day after Mardi Gras and the first day of Lent. In New Orleans, many Catholics attend Mass and receive an ashen cross on their foreheads to symbolize mortality.

"Carnival Ball" is an elaborate formal event including the krewe members and their special guests. An invited lady may get a "call out" to dance with a krewe member.  (For Muses, we have an aMUSEment Party, which is a much less formal event than the traditional MG ball.)
Bouef Gras: The fatted ox or bull that has, since the Middle Ages, been a part of pre-Lenten celebrations. It symbolizes the last meat eaten before Lent.

Captain: The head of a Carnival organization. Captains get to ride in a place of honor in the parade and, while kings and queens reign for a single year, the captain holds the honor for many years. 
Carnival: The season, stretching traditionally from Jan. 6 (Twelfth Night) to Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). All parades, balls and other events during this period are Carnival events. The term carnival means "removal of the flesh," the flesh in this case being the meat that is forsaken for Lent.

Colors of Carnival: Purple, green and gold.

Den: A large warehouse where Carnival floats are built and stored. (Our den this year is the new East Bank Mardi Gras World!!!!)

Doubloons: Silver-dollar sized commemorative aluminum coins minted for and given out by Carnival organizations. Rex threw the first in 1960. These are highly sought after and considered collectibles by many.
Flambeaux: The burning torches - usually kerosene containers mounted on wooden poles - carried in some night parades. Flambeaux carriers are known for their uninhibited prancing and twirling. At one time, torches or lanterns were carried by marchers beside all floats to illuminate them. Now all floats carry their own lights, and the flambeaux carriers are attractions within themselves.  (Don't forget to tip your favorite flambeaux)
Floats: Any decorated, movable platform for carrying Carnival maskers.

If Ever I Cease to Love: The song of the Carnival season.

King Cake: A sweetroll-like cake made in a ring. It contains a plastic doll, and the person who finds the doll in his or her piece of cake usually provides the next cake for the occasion.

Krewe: A term applied to most organizations participating in Carnival. The following parading organizations are NOT called krewes: Rex, Bacchus, Knights of Babylon, Knights of King Arthur, Corps de Napoleon, Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club.
Ladders: Common stepladders with seats bolted to the top used so children can get a better view of the parades.

Lundi Gras: French for "Fat Monday," the day before Mardi Gras. Zulu and Rex both arrive officially in the city on Lundi Gras, and now a downtown street festival has become a highlight of the day.

Mardi Gras: Fat Tuesday. The Carnival celebration ends at midnight on Fat Tuesday. It’s not called the Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras Indians: African-American marching groups that parade on Mardi Gras (and again on St. Joseph's Night) in elaborate feathered costumes. The Wild Magnolias and the Golden Eagles are among the best known.

Marching Clubs: Bands of costumed merrymakers who parade along St. Charles Avenue and other streets early on Mardi Gras morning, before the big krewes hit the streets. They are usually accompanied by a jazz band. Among the best known are Pete Fountain's Half-Fast Marching Club, the Jefferson City Buzzards, the Garden District Carnival Club and the Lyons Carnival Club.

Maskers: A term referring to both the float riders, who normally are masked, and those who costume for Mardi Gras.

Rex: Referred to only as "Rex," or as "Rex, king of Carnival," not as "King Rex" or "King of Rex." He toasts his queen at the Hotel Inter-Continental on St. Charles Avenue.

Throws: Trinkets pitched from a parade float. They include doubloons, beads, cups and plastic toys.

“Throw me something, Mister": The traditional cry of parade-goers pleading for throws. (Or if you ride in Muses it's "Hey, Pretty Lady")

Traditional Route: A standard route for night parades that begins at Napoleon Avenue, goes down St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street and ends at the Ernest Morial Convention Center.
Twelfth Night, Twelfth Night, King's day, The feast of the Epiphany, whatever you call it, January 6th is a significant day in New Orleans. It's the official start of the Carnival season, that leads up to the day before Ash Wednesday, or Mardi Gras.

Zulu :New Orleans' first and best-known African-American Carnival organization, formally known as the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. The prize of the Zulu parade is a painted coconut; they used to be thrown from the floats but are now handed out because of high liability insurance costs due to the risk of injury to spectators.

Important Info...
Kid-friendly Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is family-friendly, contrary to popular belief. The favorite spot for viewing is on St. Charles Avenue, somewhere between Napoleon Avenue and Lee Circle. Ladders for children can be seen for miles in this area. Krewe members usually throw a lot in this area because of the abundance of kids. The best way to describe it would a tailgate with parades rolling through it.  PS - Parades do not roll through the Quarter.  In fact, you could count on one hand the number of locals taking part in the dirty French Quarter Mardi Gras spectacle that America sees on tv.  It's a shame you don't have more exposure to the wholesome celebration aspect of it too.
It all ends at midnight
No matter where you spend Mardi Gras, this big party ends at midnight. Street cleaners, lead by mounted police clear the mass crowds of people off Bourbon Street. If you are new to Mardi Gras, believe what I’m telling you. All the excitement ends at midnight.


  1. wow, all of those words are completely foreign to me. thanks for the education!!

  2. What a great post and fantastic cultural resource!

    Would love to make it to Mardi Gras someday!

  3. Hey! I'm a friend of Margarets and started reading your blog as soon as I saw NOLA! I love New Orleans and thought I knew some history, but NEVER this much. Thank you so much! Have fun next week!

  4. Coming to Mardi Gras is simple! Book a room EARLY, and then just get here. Like light crowds? Book first weekend. Like much heavier, partying crowds? Book second weekend.



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