Even with a large Franco-American population, Maine isn’t known for lively Mardi Gras celebrations.
But one Franco-American Center employee’s cherished childhood memories from living in Aroostook County brought the cultural event to the center at the University of Maine on Tuesday.
A committee of 23 members, consisting of faculty and community members, helped put the event together. It was the first Mardi Gras party held on campus since 2004, when campus dining halls stopped celebrating the event due to outstanding expenses.
“I grew up in a small town in Northern Maine right on the border of Maine and Canada,” Franco-American Center community coordinator Lisa Michaud said. “As a child, I remember my parents getting dressed up for the Mardi Gras party. They would wear costumes.
“But as time went on, this practice of getting dressed up in costume did not happen any longer,” she added. “As the generations come and go, the Mardi Gras tradition has become a thing of New Orleans and not of Maine.”
Tables full of authentic French-Canadian cuisine, including baked beans, brown bread, molasses cookies and rice salad, were offered free of charge. Traditional French decorations and informative posters of French history decorated the room.
Accordionists Nancy Lamarre and Lionel Dugas served as the main entertainment. Some audience members played the spoons along with the classic songs performed.
Mardi Gras marks the beginning of the Lenten season six weeks before Easter, a season where one makes sacrifices and gives up things they enjoy like sweets, smoking or soda; as long as it is something that is difficult to go without, it is considered a sacrifice.
Guests had the opportunity to engage in a few traditions like the King Cake, a ring shaped cake with cream cheese cinnamon filling that has a plastic baby hidden inside. According to the custom, the person who finds the baby will have good luck for a year and must hold the King Cake party during the next Mardi Gras.
“A Collection of Franco-American Recipes” by Robert Daigle and Susan Pond was available for purchase at the event. The cookbook firmly grasps the delicious side of the heritage by giving a background description and directions for each recipe in both French and English.
To learn more about the Franco-American Center, check out their website at francoamericanarchives.org.