PLAINFIELD, NJ — Today is Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday in French, a holiday celebrated across the globe, especially in places with large Roman Catholic populations. It's a day of celebration before the religious fasting season of Lent that begins this week on Ash Wednesday. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mardi Gras celebrations will be different this year — even New Orleans parades have been canceled.
According to History.com, when Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate the popular local festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia into the new faith, an easier task than banning them. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
The first American celebration of Mardi Gras -- also known as Carnival or Shrove Tuesday -- took place in New Orleans in 1699 when French explorers sent by King Louis XIV marked the occasion. In the early 1800s, a group of students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, emulating the revelry they’d observed while visiting Paris. Eventually, Louisiana made it a state holiday in 1875.
Fun facts about Mardi Gras include:
- In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII added Mardi Gras to what we now call the Gregorian calendar;
- The purple, gold and green Mardi Gras beads symbolize justice (purple), power (gold) and faith (green);
- The first reported New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place in 1837;
- It is illegal to ride on a Mardi Gras parade float in New Orleans without wearing a mask.
The pandemic has also changed how ashes will be distributed at some Catholic churches this year to start the Lenten season.
According to the Feb. 14 bulletin for Plainfield's Church of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Stanislaus Kostka, located at 368 Sumner Ave., instead of having a cross placed on your forehead, a prayer will be said over the entire congregation, and when parishioners come forward wearing a mask, Fr. Frank "will sprinkle a ‘pinch’ of ashes on the top of your head in silence — sort of like how you would season food if you were cooking.” The church bulletin notice states this practice is done in Rome and other European countries.
Services will be held at 9 a.m. 12 noon and 7 p.m., and ashes will be distributed at the conclusion of each mass. Ashes will also be available during the day at the parish office, and can be taken home to those who are unable to travel to church.
TAPinto Plainfield placed a call to St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, at 516 W 6th St, to find out its plans for Ash Wednesday. Masses will be held at 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. in English, and 3:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. in Spanish. Ashes will be distributed to parishioners after mass.
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