Every winter St. Paul spends a couple weeks embracing Minnesota’s most dominant season, winter, aptly named the St. Paul Winter Carnival. A season that is synonymous with Minnesota, it can sometimes feel like winter lasts forever. Typically about this time of year I get sick of the bitter cold, the traffic jams after just a dusting of snow and this year in particular… shoveling. Last night I did a lot of what I like to call “angry shoveling” where while pushing the snow around I curse Mother Nature and mutter obscenities under my breath. After leaving work early on Wednesday to shovel and salt my sidewalk we received another inch of snow that required shoveling. Owning a home on my own and being solely responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalks and driveway has been a bit of a daunting task. Thankfully, we haven’t had as much snow this winter as I have experienced in the past. Now that I have said that we’ll get a two foot snow storm tomorrow.
The “Ice Bar” at this year’s Winter Carnival
Although winter can sometimes be a frustrating season, it is important to take time to appreciate it for all of its great qualities. The St. Paul Winter Carnival does just that and was created with that intention! I’m embarrassed to say that this year was the first time I’ve been able to attend, and I still didn’t feel like I got to take part in nearly as much as I would have liked. The first carnival was held in 1886 organized by the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. Some say it was in response to an editorial in a New York paper that accused St. Paul of being “unfit for human habitation in the winter”. I’ve never seen a copy of that article, so I’m not sure if that’s true or just a tale. It’s undisputable; however, that St. Paul was also experiencing a lot of growth during this time and was in competition with its neighbor city, Minneapolis. Prior to the Carnival civic leaders had attempted to draw residents by downplaying the winter weather. This had become more and more difficult to assert as Minnesota experienced some of its highest recorded snow totals in the late 1800’s. In part, the Winter Carnival was the beginning of a new marketing plan for the city of St. Paul to show that its citizens not only live through the winters here, but they embrace them.
The first Ice Palace in 1886
The first Carnival included many different events such as tobogganing (they went so far as to create large ice chutes that propelled the sleds), skiing, parades, snow shoeing, skating and blanket tossing. The blanket tossing event, where people would surround large blankets and hurl an individual into the air – kind of like a people-operated trampoline, would result in the formation of groups like the St. Paul Bouncing Team that still participates in the Winter Carnival today. By far, the most popular attraction to the Carnival was the Ice Palace. A palace needs its royal family so a King and Queen were crowned, a tradition that continues at present Carnivals. The Winter Carnival’s royalty are named for a legend that surrounds the story of the Carnival’s beginning (something I’d like to elaborate on in a later post, but if you’re interested check it out the Winter Carnival’s Legend page here). Entrance to the first Carnival cost $.25; it was originally scheduled for two weeks but was extended for a full month due to popularity. Organizers were surprised to turn a profit at the first event. After 1888 the Carnival was held intermittently until 1946 when it was made an annual event.
One of the Ice Sculptures from this year’s Carnival
One of the Ice Sculptures at this year’s Carnival
As I’ve alluded to, many of the traditions started at the first Winter Carnival are still part of the event in present day. The Ice Palace has been a recurring attraction, although there isn’t a Palace erected every year. It’s mostly dependent on the weather and space available along with sponsorship for the cost of construction – the most recent palace was built for the 2004 Carnival and was hosted by the NHL All Star Game. A relatively new tradition is the Medallion Hunt which started in 1952 as a partnership with the local newspaper, the Pioneer Press. A Lucite medallion is hidden in St. Paul ever year at the beginning of the Carnival while clues are given to its whereabouts every day via the Pioneer Press until it is found. In recent years the Winter Carnival has also hosted an outdoor beer festival dubbed the Beer Dabbler. This was an event that I was lucky enough to attend and you can see my earlier post here to see some pictures. One of the more popular attractions of the Winter Carnival these days are the Ice Sculptures. At the start of the event artists are given blocks of ice from which they must chisel out a masterpiece in time for judging. After the sculptures are awarded they are left for the public to view and enjoy, I’m left mystified by how someone could create these sculptures out of ice.
Me sitting on the chair carved of ice (photo courtesy of my friend Britani)
Britani and I at the carnival (photo courtesy of my friend Britani)
Thanks for stopping by – until next time!