1: Oldest traditions ever?
They could well be the veterans of traditions: Newfoundland’s first recorded Mummering event was in 1819, but it was brought across the Atlantic by the Irish and the English settlers who began arriving in the 17th century onwards. Meanwhile French settlers brought Mardi-Gras and Mi-Carême across the Atlantic ocean to New France (Acadie) and to Québec in the early 1600s.
That takes us back at least 400 years, but that is not all: all three of those whimsical traditions can be traced right back to the Middle-Ages in Europe.
Can we go back even further in time? Find out in the next section!
Photo Credit: Mardi-Gras Merriam-Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/mardi-gras
2: All 3 may have pagan influences!
At Mardi-Gras, you’re typically invited to indulge one last time in fatty foods in preparation for Lent (a once austere period of fasting for Catholics) with the traditional meal being pancakes - a pagan symbol of the spring sun, and the return of light https://www.history.co.uk/articles/the-pagan-roots-of-pancake-day-why-do-we-eat-pancakes-one-tuesday-each-year!
Carnival, which roughly stretches from January to Lent, is borrowed directly from the
Pagan tradition of celebrating spring (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival). Mummering, Mardi-Gras and Mi-Carême are carnival celebrations (with Mid-Lent being a shorter carnivalesque respite during Lent).
The mumming plays performed for amusement during winter throughout the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish villages in the Middle Ages frequently alluded to death and rebirth (nature's renewal) which are pagan themes (https://www.britannica.com/art/mumming-play).
In fact, “the origins of mummery can be traced back to the Roman Saturnalia festivals in 400 b.c.” https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mumming. These amusing traditions really have stood the test of time!
Photo credit: Wikipedia (An 1852 depiction of an English mummers play) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mummers%27_play
3: Fun comes first!
Extravagant, colorful (or even completely outlandish!) disguises
and masks are common features of these 3 celebrations.
For Mi-Carême and Mummering specifically, what is one of the best ways to have fun? Guessing games! Challenging others to guess your identity is an important ritual!
In past times, clothes were not such an easily accessed commodity as they are today, so you’d grab and throw together what you could in order to conceal your identity all the while not letting your garments give away the secret: such is the golden rule for mummers and mi-carêmes alike! The crazier the outfit, the less likely others are to recognise you!
4: The more (days) the merrier!
Yes indeed: those 3 marvellous “Ms” (Mardi-Gras, Mummering and Mi-Carême) all invite you to throw the norms out the window for a day… or for several days in fact!
These celebrations have grown so popular that the fun was extended.
5: They were created to illuminate the least sunny time of the year
Historically, winter was a season with less activity (the harvest is finished and the growing season is still a long way off) and less sunlight, so people looked for entertainment.
Newfoundland’s vibrant and whimsical Mummering tradition typically takes place around Christmas-time, making it more of a winter solstice celebration. Mardi-Gras and Mi-Carême on the other hand, which both take place typically in early months of the year (see our calendar here to understand how Mardi-Gras and Mi-Carême dates are calculated), would joyfully mark the approaching spring solstice and Easter.
6: They all tell an incredible story of resilience and persistence!
Mi-Carême and Mardi-Gras both testify of the persistence and resilience of the Acadian and Cajun people. Despite the forced dispersion of the Great Upheaval in the 18th century, Acadians and Cajuns have maintained these joyful traditions, right up to this very day.
Even in the 19th century, attempts were made to suppress Mardi-Gras in New Orleans (https://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-mardi-gras), but it never lost its ground. Mummering saw times of suppression too: street celebrations were banned due to deviances, but thankfully the tradition persisted in the friends and family spheres. Today, it enjoys a rejuvenated enthusiasm complete with street parades - Hooray!
7: Keep communities in touch!
These celebrations help bring everyone together. Traditionally, cheerful Mi-Carême revellers would visit the households of the community following a specific ritual: small groups of disguised runners would go from house to house. After asking if they may be allowed in, the mysterious masked participants performed a dance, or a short theatrical amusement, and playfully challenged their hosts to guess their identities, before enjoying a little food and drink provided by their hosts and moving on to the next home. Mi-Carême bears some very striking resemblances to Mummering in that respect.
As for Mardi-Gras, you might immediately think about the large gatherings and street parade floats at the mention of the tradition, and for good reason: you’ll see those in various Acadian, French-Canadian regions as well as in the USA. Initially the Mardi-Gras tradition was to wear disguises and attend masquerade balls to enjoy music, food and fun: closely knit communities coming together and sharing good times together! Photo: mi-carêmes in Chéticamp circa 1945
Long live the wonderful, whimsical and delightfully wild spirits of Mi-Carême, Mardi-Gras and Mummering!