Professor Carl Nivale, Your Professor Emeritus of all things Mardi Gras
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Native New Orleanian Traditions
Paying tribute to one of the icons of native New Orleans Mardi Gras...The native customs of Orleanians run the gamut from genteel gatherings to parade partiers, from family outings to solo endeavours.  Some natives devote their entire Carnival season to catching parades, while others begin working on a new costume on Ash Wednesday.  Still other natives and residents actively eschew the celebrations altogether, fleeing yearly to less colourful corners of the globe.  From the lurid adventures of Rue Bourbon to the wholesome joys of Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes, what you do at Mardi Gras is just as important as "who's your mama" and "where did you go to school?"

In the coming weeks, this section will contain a series of articles and features on the customs of Carnival in New Orleans.

Avoiding it
Ash Wed.
bal masque
boeuf gras
Grand Marshal
king cake
Lundi Gras
Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras Indians

Prof. Carl Nivale's Mardi Gras Glossary
Algiers and
Algiers Point (pr. nouns)
Algiers is the section of the city directly opposite the French Quarter on the Mississippi, on what is referred to locally as the Westbank.
Algiers Point is a jetty of land that marks the sharp turning point of the Mississippi River, and also serves as the landing point for the Canal Street ferryboat.

anodize (verb, adjective)
The dipping process by which plain gray aluminum coins are transformed into colourful, glittering doubloons.  Different colours have different costs;  plain anodized doubloons cost twice over the price of undipped doubloons.  Red doubloons cost three times more, and black anodized are the most expensive at four time s the cost.

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Ash Wednesday
On the Christian and the Druidic Lunar calendars, Ash Wednesday begins at 12:01 am the day following Mardi Gras, beginning an extended period of fasting called Lent.  On this day, all festivities cease, and the faithful attend the Catholic churches to prepare for Lent.  The day gains its namesake from the mark the faithful bear which tell of their faith:  a cross of ashes on their brows.

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banquette (Fr. noun)
During the planning and construction of the Vieux Carre', the city was mapped out into squares, with a short jetty being constructed between the buildings and the streets.  The French called this a banquette, but to the rest of the North American continent, these would become known as sidewalks.

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balcony (noun)
Reinforced platforms which serve as extensions of an edifice, usually uncovered, designed for the viewing of the city, pedestrians, and parades in the French Quarter.

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baby (noun)
A king cake babyRefers to the king cake baby, a plastic infant that, when found by a reveler in his slice, becomes obligated to provide the king cake for the next party.  The baby replaces the traditional golden bean first utilized for a king cake by the Twelfth Night Revelers.  In their ceremonies, the young lady who found the golden bean was named queen.

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Ball (noun)
also known as bal masque or tableau ball, refers to a masked gala in which scenes representing a specific theme are enacted for the supporting krewe's entertainment.   It is also the traditional scenario for presenting the krewe royalty.

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bal masque (Fr., noun)
French phrase for "masked ball".  See also ball, tableau.
boeuf gras (Fr., noun)
The Boeuf GrasFrom the French tradition of "the fatted ox", an ancient Gallic symbol of the last meat eaten before the onset of Lent.  A living version of the boeuf gras was presented by Rex until 1909.  The papier mache version we know today first appeared in 1959, and remains one of the most identifyable images in Carnival.

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captain (noun)
CaptainThe highest official and autocrat of the Carnival krewe, the Captain keeps the krewe going, either financially, organizationally, supply-wise, or in general krewe morale.

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carnival (noun)
Comes from the Latin carnivale, which translates as "farewell to flesh," referring to the final celebration before the sacrifices of the Lenten season begin.  The one constant of Carnival is its beginning, January 6th.  In the Christian calendar, this day is called Twelfth Night, Epiphany, or King's Day.  From Twelfth Night until Fat Tuesday is called Carnivaltide or simply Carnival.

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cloisonne (noun)
An ancient and intricate process of ornamentation that bonds enamels to metal to create a hard-shelled work of durable art.  It is often to be found in Carnival jewlery, favors, and specialty krewe doubloons.

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court (noun)
The king, queen, ladies, dukes, (or organizational equivalents of these offices) within Carnival organizations.

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den (noun)
Warehouse space used by parading krewes to build and store their floats.

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doubloon (noun)
Doubloon from the Krewe of Hebe, designed by Edward R. Cox.Aluminum discs, like large coins, usually bearing the emblem of the organization on one face, and the theme of their parade upon the other.  The first doubloons were designed and created for The School of Design by New Orleans artist H. Alvin Sharpe in 1960.  Doubloons are also minted in .999 silver and are crafted in cloisonne.

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Duke (pr. noun)
A title reserved for accomplished officers in a Carnival krewe.  Usually, the Dukes are paired with Maids in the processionals.  Individual krewes may have theme-equivalents to the office of Duke, i.e. Choctaw's Papooses, or Zeus' lieutenants.

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favour (noun)
A souvenir of a krewe's ball, given to family members and friends who were in attendance for the event.   Usually will bear the insignia of the organization and the year it was issued.  At the turn of the 20th century, favors reached their pinnacle of popularity, and were often expensive trinkets, such as silver vanity hand mirrors, ornate brooches or medals, silver salvers, even designer jewelry

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(Fr. noun, plural)
Flambeaux carriersTraditional lighting-style for old-line parades in New Orleans.  Fueled by naptha (a flammable aromatic) and  traditionally carried by black men, some of whose families have proudly borne the flambeaux for 6 generations.
For over a century, the flambeaux were the only illumination for the nightime parades.

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glitter (noun)
Name given to miniscule bits of mylar, plastic, or nylon that, when arranged, applied to skin, or thrown into the air, give sparkle and a magical quality to whomever or whatever it touches.

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Grand Marshal (pr. noun)
Actress Dyan Carroll was once a Grand Marshall of EndymionHonorary title given by many krewes to celebrities or civic leaders.  Superkrewes such as Bacchus, Endymion, and Caesar often feature celebrity Grand Marshals for their parades (such as actor Dyan Cannon, who once served as Grand Marshall for Endymion).

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invitation (noun)
Invitations are prized posessions at CarnivaltideAn often-ornately  printed request for one's appearance at a Carnival ball.  Invitations are very personal, and cannot be exchanged like "tickets".

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King (pr. noun)
Generic name given to male rulers of Carnival organizations.  Individual organizations may have specific names for their rulers in this category, such as Babylon's Sargon, Krewe d'Etat's Dictator, or Oshun's Shango.

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king cake (noun)
King Cakes are the traditional pastry of CarnivalRefers to the rounded pastry coloured with purple, green, and gold sugars.  Inside the pastry is hidden a plastic baby.  Tradition dictates that whomever gets the king cake baby is obliged to provide the king cake for the next Carnival party they attend.  The Twelfth Night Revelers began the tradition of choosing a queen by hiding a golden bean inside their king cakes.  The young lady who received the bean was made the queen.

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krewe (noun)
An archaic English spelling adopted by the Mistick Krewe of Comus in 1857, and now the generic term for all Carnival organizations.

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ladder (noun)
parade necessity consisting of a small seat built atop a standard stepladder to give children greater access to throws.  Ladders must be set back at least 1 1/2  ladder lengths from the parade route, and can only be used by children under 100 lbs. 

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Lundi Gras (pr. noun)
French for Fat Monday, Lundi Gras originally marked the arrival of Rex at the riverfront from 1874 to 1917.  This tradition was revived in 1987, and included the king of Zulu at the Riverfront.  In 2004, Zulu also traveled to Kenner to pay Carnival greetings to the royalty of the Krewe of Argus.

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Mardi Gras (pr. noun)
French for Fat Tuesday.  This day also known as Shrove Tuesday, and is celebrated throughout the Christian world as the culmination of Carnivaltide before the beginning of the sacrifices of the Lenten season and the release of Easter.  For the rest of the world, it is the last great celebration before the onset of spring.  Mardi Gras is traditionally over after the meeting of the courts of Comus and Rex, and officially over at midnight.  At 12:01 am, Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent commence, and all revelry must be put aside for another year.

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Mardi Gras Indians
(pr. noun)
The Mardi Gras IndiansOriginally created in the 19th century by black men who wished  to pay homage to the American Indian tribes that had harboured their ancestors who escaped from slavery.  Early on, there were violent rivalries between the tribes, but now the Mardi Gras Indians are a fixture at Carnival, best known for their incredibly detailed and intricately beaded-and-feathered costumes.  Legendary krewes include the Wild Tchoupitoulas, the Creole Wild West, and the Yellow Pocahontas.

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Queen (pr. noun)
Generic name given to female rulers of Carnival organizations.  Individual organizations may have specific titles for their royalty in this category, such as Aladdin's Princess Jasmine, Napoleon's Josephine, or Choctaw's Princess.

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sequin (noun)
From the French word for "spangle", sequin refers to the small plastic or nylon discs that are infused with colours and mylar to give off a spectacular jewel-like shine.  Used for costumes, headpieces, float decor, just about everything!

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tableau (Fr. noun)
A Tableau during a Carnival BallFrench for "tables", at Mardi Gras in New Orleans it refers specifically to  still-life scenes creating or recreating episodes in history or literature.

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