Tiny Quebec town of Natashquan keeps ancient Mi-Carême festival alive

Natashquan — located on Quebec's north shore, roughly 1,000 kilometers from Quebec City — is one of the few remaining spots in North America where an ancient costume festival is still celebrated.

Natashquan wraps up it annual break from Lent after a week of dress-up parties

Hosts must guess the identity of the Mi-Carême revellers who visit their house. (Courtesy of Vincent Lemelin)

Vincent Lemelin always loved Halloween. Imagine his joy then when, upon moving to the tiny town of Natashquan, he discovered their annual Mi-Carême celebration. 

"It's like 100 times better than Halloween," said Lemelin. "Halloween is for children. Mi-Carême is for grown-ups."

Natashquan — located on Quebec's north shore, roughly 1,000 kilometers from Quebec City — is one of the few remaining spots in North America where Mi-Carême is celebrated.

Every year members of this community of 250 people disguise themselves in elaborate costumes, and for the better of a week visit their neighbours.

It's customary for hosts to guess the identity of their visitors, before sharing a drink or a sweet together.

Mi-Carême, or mid-Lent, traces its roots to Medieval France. The festival was brought to North America by French settlers.

It is celebrated half-way through Lent, the six-week period when many Christians are traditionally meant to give up some luxury. The costumes allowed revelers to disguise their identity from the local priest.

Natashquan was settled in the 19th century by fishermen from Îles-de-la-Madeleine, which also keeps its Mi-Carême tradition alive. Several Acadian villages in the Maritimes celebrate the festival as well, as do some islands in the Lesser Antilles. 

Keeping the tradition alive

Lemelin was so taken by Mi-Carême when he arrived in Natashquan that he eventually joined the organizing committee,  and is determined to keep the tradition alive. 

"I don't want this celebration to end," he said.

The modern version Mi-Carême has lost most of its religious trappings. "It's more community-based," Lemelin said. "It's more about meeting people." 

Lemelin estimates that 100 people of all ages participated in this year's Mi-Carême celebration. (Nadia Carbonneau/Radio-Canada)

In order to signal that their homes are open to "les Mi-Carêmes," residents of Natashquan place a scarecrow outside their homes or decorate them with red lights. Lemelin estimates that around 100 people took part in this year's celebration.

"We have people 10 years old going house-to-house, and we have people who are 50, 60, 70 years old," he said.

"Everybody is doing it."

Among this year's costumes were a group of South Park characters, one Justin Trudeau look-alike and wannabe forest rangers who were helping revelers make their way through a snow storm.

Natashquan's Mi-Carême celebrations wrapped up with a community dance on Saturday night. 

with files from Marika Wheeler

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