St. Gregory the Great’s Annual Family Carnival is set to return this month after a forced one-year hiatus — really 14 months, if anyone is counting.

The carnival is but one of many traditions laid low by the coronavirus pandemic. But from Aug. 16 to 21, families will finally have their chance to return to grounds of the Catholic church on Nottingham Way in Hamilton for games, rides, food and fireworks.

St Gregory carnival 2019

A scene from the 2019 St. Gregory the Great Family Carnival. (Facebook photo.)

And as long as New Jersey’s Covid-19 guidelines for social distancing and facemasking remain at current requirements, the carnival committee expects this year’s event to look and feel like any other year.

“If somebody walks on the ground it’s going to look like the St. Gregory the Great carnival,” said the Rev. Mike Hall, pastor of St. Gregory the Great. “The food vendors are going to be the same, the games are going to be the same. Except for a few different rides, it’s going to be the same carnival that people are used to.”

The carnival has been an annual June tradition since its inception in the 1970’s. But the pandemic necessitated the cancellation of the event last year, and as this June approached, it appeared like perhaps this year’s would be a virus casualty as well.

In March, the Rev. Mike Hall, St. Gregory’s pastor, wrote a note to parish members informing them that the 2021 carnival would be canceled, although “we are pursuing some possible back-up dates toward the end of the summer where we could still hold a parish event.”

After Gov. Phil Murphy started easing pandemic-era restrictions for social distancing and gathering at the start of the summer, the committee acted quickly to set an August date and start finding vendors and sponsors to commit to this year’s event.

Those “few different rides” that Hall mentioned will be different because St. Gregory’s had to contract with a different ride vendor than usual, owing to the date change. The company that usually provides the rides was already booked for the week of Aug. 16–21.

Campy’s Blue Star Amusements, based in Paterson, will provide this year’s rides. Hall says they have been easy to deal with, and also have extensive experience in dealing with Covid-era restrictions and requirements.

Also returning are the popular fireworks shows, which are planned for Tuesday, Aug. 17 and Saturday, Aug. 21.

Hall says the committee had some concerns that the August date could hurt the carnival because August is traditionally seen as a bad month for events. Many families travel in August.

However, Hall says St. Gregory’s has seen a great response from sponsors as well as volunteers. He says all the regular sponsors have committed to support the carnival, and that as far as working the carnival itself, almost every volunteer slot available was taken as of the end of July.

“It’s probably a greater commitment we’ve ever seen,” Hall says. “People are looking to do something, and to be able to help out. I think people are just looking to be able support the places they weren’t able to support for a year.”

Response was also strong to this year’s Super 50/50 raffle, held in June, which raised more than $46,000, with the winner taking home $21,575. All proceeds from the raffle as well as the carnival benefit the St. Gregory the Great Academy, the church’s K-8 school.

Updates and more information on the carnival are on Facebook.

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