Around this time last year, I was roaming the streets of New Orleans in less than 40-degree weather sporting nothing but my favorite pair of leggings, a purple tutu, a coconut bra and a teeny tiny green hat for good measure because you know most of your body heat is lost through your head, right?
My good friend/Mardi Gras guide had a similar outfit on and strutted her stuff with me as the crowds of people bundled up in their winter gear watched us walk by. The parade hadn’t started yet, and we were the entertainment in the meantime. Some cheered us on with their jaws dropped while others gave us looks that screamed, “How the hell are they not freezing?!” It was a combination of Louisiana’s lax public drinking laws and the rum in our cups that kept us alive in case you were wondering.
And while our outfits certainly earned us all those looks, cheers and creeper men trying to sneak pictures of us, we weren’t even the most oddly dressed people there. It was New Orleans after all, and that city gets even more awesomely weird during Mardi Gras.
If you’re thinking of heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I have two pieces of advice:
- GO. Don’t think. Just go because you will have one of the most incredible experiences of your life.
- Understand that while catching beads and debauchery are a HUGE part of Mardi Gras, there’s a lot more to know about this annual celebration….
And that’s where I come in. There’s a certain lingo that rolls off the tongues of people at New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, and with that vocabulary in your arsenal, you’ll understand a whole new side of the festivities. So study up, and prepare yourself for all the fun traditions. Here are some gems from the book of Big Easy Mardi Gras Lingo:
Pronounced like the word “crews,” there would be no Mardi Gras without these clubs who organize the parades that roll by during carnival season. Each krewe is responsible for creating their own parade floats and costumes for its members. In the month leading up to Fat Tuesday, there’s a krewe somewhere in Louisiana hosting a parade almost every day, and things rev up with multiple parades a day as we get closer to the big finale.
In New Orleans, there are 70 krewes, but some of the most popular ones include Muse, Zulu, Endymion, and Bacchus.
Everyone knows that you have to collect beaded necklaces during Mardi Gras, but there are other more intricate and interesting items to catch in mid air too. These items known as “throws” range from stuffed animals and krewe-branded cups to the most random and otherwise useless things like hand painted coconuts and bedazzled toilet brushes, purses and a single shoe. These glittery household items, accessories and fruit ( is coconut even a fruit?) are known as “signature throws.”
Some krewes choose these random items for whatever reason and make them their symbols. Each member decorates a handful of these items and tosses them to a few lucky people during the parade. Since they are hard to get, people in the crowds can get a little aggressive at times when it comes to these signature throws. If a krewe member is about to give a signature throw to you, try to grab and secure it as quickly as possible. I had a coconut (Zulu’s signature throw) snatched from my hands and saw another one, which was intended for me, get intercepted by a man who was much taller than me. Some people are vicious and have no shame.
Don’t worry, though. With my coconut bra on, the krewe members of Zulu were more than happy to give me tons of coconuts. I lost a few, gave away a few to some kids in the crowd and still left with ten coconuts between what my friend and I both collected.
Side Note For The Ladies: Contrary to what the movies and media portray, you don’t have to flash your bare chest to get beads and other throws. Some creepers will definitely ask to see your lady bits, but if you don’t feel like exposing yourself, you’ll still get plenty of beads. Don’t let any asshole pressure you into believing otherwise!
When I first heard the word “doubloons,” I immediately thought of those little gold coins that pirates were always looking for in buried treasure chests, and the doubloons of Mardi Gras are not too far off from that.
Instead of gold, the Mardi Gras doubloons are plastic and painted in gold, purple, green or some other bright color. They also usually include an engraving with the symbol of the krewe handing them out. Oh and they’re essentially worthless unlike a real pirates treasure, but they are fun to collect. Just be sure not to bend down to pick them up when the crowd around you is going crazy trying to catch the throws. If you see one you like, step on it, wait for the crowd to simmer down a bit and then pick it up when you have a clear opening to do so. Your face will thank me when it doesn’t land on the nasty, alcohol-soaked pavement.
King Cake is this delicious cinnamon cake frosted with vanilla icing and topped with tiny purple, green and yellow sprinkles to give it that Mardi Gras flair. You’ll find King Cake at all times of the year, but true NOLA residents only indulge in this sweet treat during carnival season. The cake is baked in the shape of a large oval ring and somewhere inside it is a plastic toy shaped like a baby. Tradition says that whoever gets the the slice with the baby must buy the King Cake for the next party. You should definitely try King Cake while you’re in New Orleans and preferably from a bakery where you can get a fresh one.
Mardi Gras Indians:
Bumping into Mardi Gras Indians was one of my favorite parts of my carnival experience, and it all happened by chance. These groups of people– appropriately called tribes– dress in brightly-colored costumes covered in feathers and insanely elaborate embroidery. In last year’s post about my New Orleans Mardi Gras experience, I described them as a cross between what a Brazilian samba queen would wear mixed with the traditional wardrobes of many Native American tribes. They parade down the street in their costumes followed by musicians who provide the beat for everyone to march and dance to. If a tribe of Mardi Gras Indians passes by, feel free to join in on the party. Everyone does! If you’re lucky, you’ll see two tribes cross paths with each other and engage in what almost looks like a dance battle but is actually filled with both African and Native American traditions.