Catholic Herald Staff
Tucked into rural Bayfield County is the tiny parish of St. Florian.
The chapel-sized church south of Ino seats between 50 and 75 people, according to Deacon John Grek.
“There’s about three or four ladies that are running the thing, and that’s about it,” he added.
The choir loft, too, is diminutive.
“You have to be either really short or agile enough to get up the stairs,” he said.
A few years ago, parishioners approached him about organizing a Mardi Gras.
“You know, that’s a neat idea,” Grek thought.
The burning of last year’s palms is a traditional focus for pre-Lenten festivities, but Grek wanted something more.
So, for at least the past four years, St. Florian’s Mardi Gras has opened with prayers from the Liturgy of Hours. Then, 20-some parishioners file outside and light the palms.
“We all go inside and have hot chocolate and sandwiches and sit around and talk for awhile,” he said.
St. Florian isn’t the only parish that parties on Fat Tuesday.
Fellowship and community-building are also the motivation for Mardi Gras at Holy Family, Woodruff.
Six years ago, three local parishes merged into one.
“Closing parishes and merging them into one can be a challenge,” explained Lee Ann Niebuhr, parish director of evangelization and adult faith formation. “We thought it might be nice to have some good old-fashioned fun by having a Fat Tuesday celebration.”
They looked to the New Orleans carnival for inspiration.
“Everyone who comes in the door gets a bead necklace,” she said. “We give prizes of Mardi Gras masks. The highlight of the evening is the crowning of the Mardi Gras King of Revelry, Queen of Misrule, jesters and clown.”
A merry band of mechanics mans the kitchen, cooking up jambalaya, corn bread with honey butter and coleslaw, and the Holy Family Dixieland Band performs on sax, clarinet, piano, trumpet and drums.
Parishioners pitch in by bringing homemade desserts and, after dinner, the band leads a procession of 200 or more out to a fire, where last year’s palms are burned.
Whatever the style of celebration, the ending is always the same: the blessing of ashes — an Ash Wednesday reminder of one’s mortality — and the beginning of the solemn season of Lent.