Chéticamp’s Mi-Carême, a centuries-old tradition, still sparks joy and celebration

February 29, 2024

[This is translation of an article by Daniel Aucoin which will appear in French in the Spring 2024 issue of The Participaper.]

The Acadians of the Chéticamp region love to share their heritage and culture. Mi-Carême – which mean mid-Lent, and marks the mid-point between Ash Wednesday and Easter eve – is one of the oldest Acadian traditions to still be celebrated in the community every winter. In fact it’s been part of the culture for centuries, and still today it’s one of the high points of the festive calendar.

A mi-carême reveler in disguise sits with a man wearing glasses and a plaid shirt

La Mi-Carême is a week-long celebration with music and disguises, which brings a joyous distraction from the seemingly relentless winter.

Georges Arsenault, a historian from PEI, is the author of La Mi-Carême en Acadie. According to Arsenault,

“In the Maritimes these days, if you want to celebrate a true, authentic Mi-Carême, there’s no better spot than the region of Chéticamp and Saint-Joseph-du-Moine in Nova Scotia.

In this well-known corner of Cape Breton, they’ve never skipped the annual Mi-Carême revelries, and mid-Lent week has become a major community celebration.

The basic elements are always the same – the costumes and disguise, going door-to-door around the neighbourhood, the welcome and hospitality, live music and dancing, the sweet treats and even a little alcoholic tipple.”

Georges Arsenault

As its name suggests, la Mi-Carême – mid-Lent – marks the midpoint of the season of Lent. This 40-day period preceding Holy Week where many Christians observe a period of repentence, self-denial and spiritual discipline, recalling Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness. Originally, the costumes and masks served to hide the identity of people who broke the penitential period of Lent.

Two mi-carême revellers seated, one knitting

These days, every March, local Acadians get out their masks and disguises, and reach for their musical instruments. Weeks before the festivities, people in the region start to dress their house, basement or garage ready to welcome the Mi-Carême revellers. Inside the houses, the floor is covered with cardboard and chairs are set out to welcome the festival goers.

The real Mi-Carême enthusiasts prepare their costumes months in advance. The costumes come in all kinds, and with masks and wigs, people are covered from head to toe. While parading in disguise from house to house, revellers do everything to conceal their identity – walking funny, putting on a pretend voice and trying to deceive their hosts.

The crucial point is not to be recognized by the friends and family whose hospitality you are enjoying. The guessing game continues through to the early hours, and when they finally unmask themselves and reveal their identity, the revellers are offered sucre à la crème (a confection similar to fudge) as well as traditional Acadian dishes and beverages.

a group of mi-carême revellers

Many Mi-Carême enthusiasts from further afield return to Chéticamp year after year for the week-long festival. It’s a living part of the Acadian heritage which brings together young and old through the days and nights. Clearly this week of rejoicing and entertainment will be a feature of the festive year in this part of Cape Breton for years to come.

Located in Grand-Étang harbour, the Centre de la Mi-Carême has a mission to preserve this wonderfully whimsical tradition which the Acadian community has celebrated for over 200 years. Visitors to the interpretative centre will discover a magnificent collection of locally made artisanal masks, as well as interactive exhibitions that tell the story of the evolution of the fantastic and fun-filled tradition.

While once the festival was wide-spread across Acadia, today, la Mi-Carême still lives on in Cape Breton’s Chéticamp region, in Fatima in the Magdalen Islands and in Natashquan and Île-aux-Grues in Quebec.

A group of mi-carême revellers