The Origins of the Mi-Carême

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559
The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559

The origin of Mi-Carême is lost in the mists of time. It has been celebrated in many European communities since the Middle Ages.

The essence of the carnival-like Mi-Carême is a spirit of joy, laughter and mockery that contrasts with the Lenten period of austerity, severity and penance leading up to Easter. Lent begins the day after Ash Wednesday and ends the day before Easter. Mi-Carême literally means the middle of Lent.

The Mi-Carême tradition crossed the Atlantic Ocean with the first French-speaking settlers to the New World.

Les mi-carêmesDuring Mi-Carême many people, called les mi-carêmes, disguised from head to toe, visit their neighbours, who try to guess their identity.When the guessing game is over, the mi-carêmes unmask and enjoy a treat before heading to their next destination where the game begins again.

Although once practised in all Acadian communities, it is only still celebrated in the Acadian communities of Saint-Joseph-du-Moine, Magré and Chéticamp. This merry-making festivity now lasts one week. 

There are three communities in the province of Quebec that still celebrate the Mi-Carême : Fatima in the region of Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine; Isle-aux-Grues in the region of Chaudière-Appalaches and Natashquan in the region of Côte-Nord.

Les mi-carêmes

Examples of fêtes with similar characteristics exist in other areas of Canada and the world. Mi-Carême in the province of Quebec, Mummering in the province of Newfoundland-and-Labrabor, Mardi-Gras in the state of Louisiana, as well as in the Carribean and in Brazil, Carnival in Quebec City and in many communities in Europe are just a few examples where similar fêtes take place. These festivities evoke the same kind of sentiments felt by people who celebrate Mi-Carême in the Acadian areas of Saint-Joseph-du-Moine and Chéticamp. All of these celebrations have the same common components: food, beverages, music, dance, laughter and, of course masks. In many areas, these festivities are also used to promote authentic aspects of the local culture to visitors, and by doing this, they become important tourist destinations.