How Mardi Gras Works

A Mardi Gras Glossary

King Cake King Cake
The King Cake is an oval, sugared cake iced in the Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple, with a plastic baby doll hidden inside. Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Before we go into more detail on what actually happens during Mardi Gras, let's take a look the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau list of some of the most important terms related to the big party in the "Big Easy":

  • Ball (tableau ball) - This is a masked party featuring, as entertainment, the performance of scenes representing a specific theme.
  • Boeuf Gras - This is the fatted bull or ox and symbolizes the last meat eaten before the Lenten season of fasting (the "live" version presented in the Rex parade was replaced in 1959 by a papier-mache version). The Boeuf Gras is one of the most photographed sights at Mardi Gras.
  • Captain - The leader of each Mardi Gras organization
  • Court - The king, queen, maids and dukes of a Mardi Gras organization
  • Doubloons - These are aluminum, coin-like objects bearing the krewe's insignia on one side and the parade's theme on the reverse. Doubloons were first introduced in 1960 and created by New Orleans artist H. Alvin Sharpe. Doubloons are also minted and sold in .999 silver, bronze and cloisonne.
  • Favor - This is a personalized souvenir, given by organization members to friends attending the ball.
  • Invitation - This is a non-transferable printed request for attendance at a Mardi Gras ball. Note: It is considered improper to call these "tickets."
  • King Cake - This is an oval, sugared cake with a plastic baby doll hidden inside. The person who finds the doll is crowned "king" and buys the next colorful cake. The King Cake season opens on King's Day, January 6. According to "Mardi Gras Guide" publisher Arthur Hardy, more than 750,000 King Cakes are sold each year in New Orleans during carnival season, and thousands more are ordered from special bakeries and shipped to celebrants around the country.
  • Krewe - This is the generic term for all carnival organizations and clubs in New Orleans. Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology are the sources for nearly half the krewe names. Some clubs are named after the neighborhoods through which they travel, while others are named after historical figures or places. Clubs are chartered as nonprofit entities and are financed by dues, by the sale of krewe-emblemed merchandise to its members and by fund-raising projects. Most Mardi Gras krewes are also involved in charity work.
  • Lundi Gras - This is French for Fat Monday. From 1897 to 1917, the day before Mardi Gras was celebrated by the arrival of King Rex aboard a steamboat. The custom was revived in 1987.
  • Throws - These are inexpensive souvenirs tossed from floats (since around 1871) by costumed and masked krewe members in response to traditional calls of, "Throw me something, mister!" These "throws" include doubloons, plastic cups and necklaces.