Mardi Gras is not only a unique party, it has a unique language. Here are some terms you need to know.
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.
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.
Court: The king, queen, maids, dukes and other mock royalty of a Carnival organization.
Den: A large warehouse where Carnival floats are built and stored.
Doubloons: Silver-dollar sized commemorative aluminum coins minted for and given out by Carnival organizations. Rex threw the first in 1960.
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.
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.
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.
Truck Parades: Mardi Gras parades made up entirely of decorated, truck-drawn flatbed trailers. There are two in New Orleans: the Elks Krewe of Orleanians and Crescent City, which follow Rex. There also are two in Metairie, which follow Argus, another in Covington. Truck parades roll only on Mardi Gras.
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 club was founded in 1909 by African-Americans excluded from the city's mainline Carnival krewes, which were often lampooned in Zulu's satirical antics. Zulu began to parade in 1916, featuring characters such as King Zulu, Big Shot and the Witch Doctor who are city favorites to this day. While Rex rules Carnival with a golden scepter and jeweled crown, King Zulu carries a banana stalk and wears a lard can on his head. And did we mention that all of the krewe's maskers - now including men and women of all races - wear black face and Afro wigs to turn the tables on racial stereotypes? 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.