Masquerading with glee in a season of penance
CAPE BRETON, Nova Scotia -- Visit this island's west coast several weeks before Easter and you find locals dressed in a hodgepodge of outfits that may include papier-mâché masks, wigs, uniforms, crazy hats, witches costumes, even lobster suits.
The reason for these colorful disguises: Mi-Carême, or "middle of Lent," a French-Acadian tradition dating to the Middle Ages when people were allowed one day during which they could indulge in everything they had given up for the 40-day period. People would disguise themselves so others wouldn't know what they were up to as they broke Lent. These masqueraders would go house to house, visiting friends and relatives for a drink, a chat, and an attempt to discover each other's secret identities.
Mi-Carême eventually grew into a weeklong celebration that this year runs from today until next Sunday in the Cape Breton Island towns of St-Joseph-du-Moine and Cheticamp.
The festivities begin with an event called Laissons Entrer Les Mi-Carêmes, or "Let the Mi-Carêmes In," at the Cheticamp community center. The evening includes music , singing, dancing, and food. Mi-Carêmes don disguises all week, with some changing outfits five or six times a day. It culminates in a celebration next weekend at the St -Joseph-du-Moine community center.
Come June, another unusual sight greets visitors in Cap Le Moine, before they enter St-Joseph-du-Moine : a scarecrow village called Joe's Drive-in Theater of Scarecrows that sprawls across the lawn next to Ethel's Take-Out and Gift Shop. Each grassy garden ornament at this roadside attraction is dressed in a unique ensemble donated by past Mi-Carême participants. From June through October, visit Centre de la Mi-Carême, also in St-Joseph-du-Moine, where more than 200 handcrafted papier-mâché masks are on display.
For more information on the region, go to cheticampns.com or novascotia.com . Joe's Drive-in Theater of Scarecrows, 11852 Cabot Trail, Cap Le Moine , 902-235-2108 ; open June through October. Centre de la Mi-Carême, 12615 Cabot Trail , St-Joseph-du-Moine, 902-224-1016; open daily June through October .