Mardi Gras Glossary
By Arthur Hardy
Ball (bal masque, tableau ball)
A masked ball in which scenes representing a specific theme are enacted for the entertainment of the club members and their guests; krewe "royalty" is traditionally presented during the ball.
The fatted bull or ox, the ancient symbol of the last meat eaten before the Lenten season of fasting: a live version was presented in the Rex parade until 1909; a papier-maché version appeared in 1959 and continues as one of Carnival's most recognizable symbols.
The absolute leader of each Carnival organization.
From the Latin carnivale, loosely translated as "farewell to flesh"; the season of merriment in New Orleans which begins annually on January 6, the Twelfth Night (the feast of the Epiphany), and ends at midnight on Fat Tuesday; the Carnival season leads up to the penitential season of Lent in which fasting replaces feasting.
The king, queen, maids and dukes of a Carnival organization.
A large warehouse where floats are built and stored.
|Mardi Gras Doubloon
Aluminum coin-like objects bearing the krewe's insignia on one side and the parade's theme on the reverse; first introduced by Rex in 1960 and created by New Orleans artist H. Alvin Sharpe; doubloons are also minted and sold in .999 silver, bronze and cloisonne.
A souvenir, given by krewe members to friends attending the ball, normally bearing the organization's insignia, name and year of issue, like this Pegasus favor from 1970.
Naphtha-fueled torches, traditionally carried by white-robed black men; in the past century, flambeaux provided the only source of nighttime parade illumination.
A printed request for attendance at a Carnival ball; in the 19th century, many invitations were die-cut and printed in Paris; today, most are printed in New Orleans; invitations are non-transferable, and it is improper to ever refer to them as "tickets."
An oval, sugared pastry that contains a plastic doll hidden inside; the person who finds the doll is crowned "king" and buys the next cake or throws the next party; the king cake season opens on King's Day, January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. More than 750,000 king cakes are annually consumed in the metro New Orleans area during the Carnival season.
The generic term for all Carnival organizations in New Orleans, first used by the Mistick Krewe of Comus, which coined the word in 1857 to give its club's name an Old English flavor.
French for Fat Monday. From 1874 to 1917, the day before Mardi Gras was celebrated by the arrival of Rex aboard a steamboat. The custom was revived in 1987, and Lundi Gras now includes Carnival activities staged by Zulu and Rex.
French for Fat Tuesday, the single-day culmination of the Carnival season.
Mardi Gras Indians
|Mardi Gras Indian
Groups of black men in New Orleans who portray American Indians and are magnificently outfitted with handmade beaded and feathered costumes; this Carnival custom dates to the mid-19th century; among the more legendary tribes are the Wild Tchoupitoulas, the Creole Wild West and the Yellow Pocahontas.
Inexpensive trinkets tossed from floats by costumed and masked krewe members; among the more popular items are krewe-emblemed aluminum doubloons, plastic cups and white pearl necklaces. Throws are tossed in response to the cry, "Throw me something, mister!"
Click here for more about the history and traditions of Mardi Gras.
Reprinted with permission from Arthur Hardy's Mardi Gras Guide. © Arthur Hardy.
All images © S. Leavines.