The Mi-Carême Centre, located in the picturesque Grand-Étang Harbour on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, promotes the rich tradition of the Mi-Carême fête. The Centre features stunning displays, gives an historical overview of the fête, and offers a variety of monthly activities. Visitors learn about this mid-lent celebration, featuring mask, music, and dance, through interactive exhibits.
Many historians say that celebrating Mi-Carême began in Medieval Europe. The Mi-Carême fête crossed the Atlantic Ocean with the first French-speaking pioneers to what became Acadie. Mi-Carême is celebrated mid-way between Lent (begins on Ash Wednesday) and Easter. The fête continues to be celebrated in the Acadian communities of the parishes of Saint-Joseph-du-Moine and Saint-Pierre, Chéticamp.
Traditionally, Mi-Carême was only celebrated for one day – on the Thursday of the third week of Lent. However, in the villages of the parishes of Saint-Joseph-du-Moine and Saint-Pierre Chéticamp, it is now celebrated for one week. It has been celebrated, without interruption, since the arrival of the first settlers to the area in 1785. Acadians settled in the region after the turmoil of the Deportation (1755-1763) and resulting years of exile and wandering known as the Great Dispersal.
The main activity during Mi-Carême is called “running the mi-carême.” In the past, mostly men, but also some children and women, would participate in the event. They would make masks with old sweaters, cardboard, or fabric. Currently, men, women and children run the Mi-Carême. Today many participants rent or buy costumes and masks. Once disguised, the masked runners go from house to house. And then the game begins.
When the masked visitors enter a house, they change their way of walking and speaking; they might sing, play music, or, even dance, as well as perform all kinds of funny gestures making people laugh. The principal goal of the welcoming householders and their guests, who are called the “watchers,” is to try and guess who is hidden under the masks. An excellent “Mi-Carême runner” is mysterious, creative, and funny. An excellent host or hostess kindly welcomes the masked runners. These hosts, along with the other “watchers,” take great pleasure in guessing the identity of the masked visitors. The runners are offered food and drink before they continue their journey to the next house where the guessing game begins again.
Some of the experiences offered by staff at the Mi-Carême Centre are dining with mi-carêmes and mask-painting. During the dining experience participants enjoy traditional Acadian food such as vegetable soup, fish cakes, and bread pudding with butter sauce.
The mask-painting experience is designed as a fun two-hour activity where participants first learn about Mi-Carême by exploring the exhibit. Then they enjoy being creative by designing their own mask and putting on a costume. As a keepsake, they have a picture taken with other mi-carêmes in front of the Centre. And they go home with their mask creation.
In the boutique at the Centre, one will see a variety of products made by local artisans including papier-mâché masks, jewellery, and hooked rugs inspired by the Mi-Carême theme. They also have books, postcards, and art cards for sale.