A Mardi Gras Vocabulary Lesson

The Nutella King Cake. Notice it was already half eaten before noon.

One of my first posts for this blog was a list of terms that only New Orleanians know. Well, it turns out that there’s a whole other collection of words out there for Mardi Gras. For this installment of "Haley's First Mardi Gras," here are the words and phrases I’ve discovered so far that all Mardi Gras revelers need to know so they can enjoy – and understand – all that is Mardi Gras.


Carnival vs. Mardi Gras

I often get Carnival and Mardi Gras confused. Technically, the term Carnival refers to the season around Mardi Gras. The term Mardi Gras just refers to one day (also known as Fat Tuesday), which is coming up on Tuesday, Feb. 12. According to MardiGrasNewOrleans.com, a helpful website for visitors coming into town for Mardi Gras, "Mardi Gras, or 'Fat Tuesday,' is the last day of the Carnival season as it always falls the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent."

However, I have noticed that people use the terms Carnival and Mardi Gras interchangeably. It seems to me that the locals know the difference between Carnival and Mardi Gras, but they can still use Mardi Gras when referring to the whole season and get away with it. However, you have more street cred in New Orleans if you know the difference between the two.


King Cake

This is definitely one of my favorite things about Carnival: lots and lots of King Cake. It seems like there is one in our office everyday. Yesterday we had a Nutella King Cake. Delicious!!!!

But a King Cake comes with rules. There is a little toy baby somewhere in the cake and whoever bites into the piece that has the baby must purchase the next King Cake. So what might seem like a prize is actually something that tells you to go buy a cake for your office. It's still a fun and tasty tradition, though. And who doesn't love a reason to buy cake? 



Krewes are the groups that put the parades together. Kevin J. Bozant's Quaint Essential New Orleans defines it as "a private Carnival organization that puts on a parade and/or a ball in New Orleans."

I want to figure out how to get in one of these. Stay tuned.


Super Krewe

A really, really big krewe.These are the krewes that bring in celebrities. Krewe of Endymion is bringing Kelly Clarkson this year!


Sidewalk side vs. neutral ground side

These two terms make it easier for float riders to explain to their friends how people can see them. I interviewed Jennifer Lotz of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau for a story for New Orleans Magazine (pick up the February issue!) and she said a rider could describe where they are on a particular float by saying something like "float 5, 6th rider, neutral ground side."



These are what are tossed from the parade floats. When I first moved here, I thought krewes only threw beads, but I have since learned that Krewe of Zulu throws coconuts and Krewe of Muses throws shoes. Free shoes following into my hands? That’s pretty much what I expect heaven to be like. I think I’m going to like Mardi Gras.


I know this list is short, but I'm still a Carnival beginner. I know there are more terms, so let me know if you think I've missed anything.