Mardi Gras 101: Terms You Should Know

From A to Z, make sure you know these common Carnival-related words.

How much do you really know about Carnival? Locals who don't know these popular Mardi Gras terms should start studying right now. However, if you have friends or family that are new to Mardi Gras, this could be handy for them to have! We've rounded up a glossary of terms common during the season.

Ash Wednesday

Like the Epiphany or Kings’ Day signals the official start of Carnival, Ash Wednesday marks the end of the Carnival season. The day following Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday also signals the start of Lent — a period of fasting and prayer for Christians.


A Mardi Gras ball is a special event Carnival krewes usually host prior to rolling their parades. They are usually a formal affair and feature presentations of the royal court, dancing and lots of festive spirit.


Bacchus is considered one of Carnival’s super krewes and one of the biggest parades in New Orleans. Bacchus rolls the Sunday before Mardi Gras and is named after the Greek god of wine. It’s considered a super krewe due to its size and celebrity guests.

Boeuf Gras

Translating to “fat ox” in French, it’s an ancient tradition of fattening a cow or ox for the town to eat before abstaining from meat during Lent.


In Latin Carnival translates to “a farewell to meat.” It is used to refer to the Mardi Gras season as a whole, beginning on King’s Day and ending on Ash Wednesday.


Here’s where a lot of the Mardi Gras magic is stored. A den, like the one at Mardi Gras World, is a large warehouse where floats are built and stored. Many krewes keep their floats hidden away in the den with limited access to people outside the krewe.


A doubloon is a common Mardi Gras throw. They are large coins, usually made out of aluminum or plastic and painted bright colors. Sometimes Doubloons will follow the theme of the krewe throwing them.


Endymion is another major parade and super krewe in New Orleans. The parade features a celebrity grand marshal, extremely decorated floats and lots and lots of throws. It’s named after a character from Greek mythology, cited as a shepherd, hunter or king. Their Mardi Gras Ball is also one of the most anticipated of the season.


The Christian feast day is also considered the official beginning of the Carnival season. The Epiphany, also known as Kings’ Day, also marks the day king cakes become available in the city.


Coming from the French word for “flame,” men would carry these large torches in parades to provide light and warmth before the days of electricity. The tradition continues today.

Galette des Rois

Composed of two circles of puff pastry sandwiching a frangipani filling, each comes with a crown and always has a trinket, called a fève. It is the french cousin to the king cake we know and love now.


Plastic or paper cup frequently used at Mardi Gras parades.

King Cake

King cakes are one of the most exciting and parts of Carnival! Traditionally, it is a festive cake made of dough, cinnamon, glaze topping, Mardi Gras colored sprinkles or sugar, and complete with a small plastic baby. Many people compare it to a giant cinnamon roll. In more recent years, bakeries have experimented more with king cakes by putting new creative twists on the dessert.


The group of people who ride in, create, fund and execute parades.

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

A Cajun French saying that means “let the good times roll.”

Lundi Gras

Another French term that means “Fat Monday.” It’s the day before Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).

Mardi Gras Indians

A group of African Americans who dress in Native American regalia such as beautiful headdresses and elaborate suits, complete with feathers and beads. These secretive tribes march in parades and through streets but hardly announce when beforehand.

Moon Pie

A common throw during some parades-it is a dessert sandwich made of chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows.

Neutral Ground

This common term is the median that separates roads, usually planted with grass. Parade goers often distinguish where they will stand between the neutral ground side and the sidewalk side by marking territories with ladders or chalk.


One of the oldest and most renowned parades. It’s held on Mardi Gras day and translates to “king” in Latin.

Royal Court

It refers to honored members of a krewe. The court usually includes a king, queen, grand marshals, dukes, maids and more. Court members are often presented during the parade’s ball and are easily distinguishable during parades.

Second Line

Second line is a tradition in brass band parades in New Orleans. Feel free to grab a napkin or handkerchief and follow along to the jazz processional.

Super Krewe

A large-scale parade that features modern technology and celebrity guests with lavish throws. The official super krewe parades are Bacchus, Orpheus and Endymion.


The materials riders throw to parade watchers. Beads, cups, boas and stuffed animals are common throws. Other specialty throws from krewe are considered prized possessions for parade goers. These include coveted keepsakes like the Zulu coconut, Muses shoe and Nyx purse.


Known Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, they are a well-known, historically African American Mardi Gras day parade. Always the first to roll on Fat Tuesday it can be traced back to the early 1900s . Its signature throws are the highly coveted hand-decorated coconuts.

For a complete schedule of New Orleans parades,click here.