Celebrating Winter: The St. Paul Winter Carnival

I haven’t written much about Minnesota, so today I thought I’d write about one of St. Paul’s oldest and most beloved festivals-the St. Paul Winter Carnival.  The St. Paul Winter Carnival began yesterday, January 22.  When I was growing up, the St. Paul Winter Carnival helped to liven up the after-Christmas winter doldrums. 

 

In my family we, like most Twin Cities inhabitants,  all knew the legend behind the carnival…how the good King of the Winds, King Boreas gets defeated by the god of Fire, Vulcanus on the last day of the carnival.  King Boreas promises to return next winter, and Vulcanus brings the warmth of spring and summer.  The winter court gets selected the first day of the carnival.  There are very picturesque titles: Queen of the Snows, Wind Princesses, Klondike Kate, etc.  During our city festival in June, Vulcanus’ followers, the mischievous Vulcans would scare us with their loud horns and grease paint.  The Vulcans would go into the parade crowd and mark people’s cheeks with a black V for Vulcanus.  We would go to one of St. Paul’s parks to see the beautiful ice sculptures and some years we’d see the ice palace-a huge, multistory palace construction of ice made from ice taken from Minnesota’s lakes.  We would eagerly read the St. Paul newspaper, St. Paul Pioneer Press, to try to figure out where the Winter Carnival medallion was hidden.  We never could make sense of the daily clues, but enjoyed following along.  Usually the medallion is buried somewhere under the snow in one of St. Paul’s city parks.  There are parades too, but we preferred to stay away from the crowds and stay indoors.

 

Why did the Winter Carnival begin?  It began in the 1880s as a way to show off St. Paul and to prove that it is possible to survive and even have fun during the coldest part of a Minnesota winter, contrary to the view of a writer in New York.  In 1886 St. Paul, MN was actually one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and city leaders wanted this to continue.  The festival was modeled after the one in Montreal, Canada.  The Winter Carnival has been held every year since 1886.  To this day the metropolitan area of St. Paul/Minneapolis has the dubious honor of having coldest mean temperature of any metropolitan area in the lower 48 U.S. states.  The weather does play a big factor at the carnival.  Sometimes the weather is unseasonably warm and some events like the ice sculpture contest are cancelled due to melting.  Other years there are sub-zero temperatures that keep even hardy Minnesotans indoors and cause outdoor events to be cancelled. 

 

I would usually recommend visiting Minnesota in either June or September because those months usually have the best weather, but if you ever find yourself in Minnesota around the last week of January or the first week of February check out the Winter Carnival.  I guarantee it will be a memorable experience!

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gori Girl
    Jan 23, 2009 @ 15:44:56

    Man, I looked at the pictures of on the Winter carnival website, and all I could think was COLD. I almost applied to Minnesota for their economics program (one of my professors in undergrad was a alum), but then I came to my senses and realized that I would never survive the winters.

    True, the cold is tough. Another tough thing is just how LONG the winters are. Winter lasts a good 6-8 weeks longer there than in places like DC, Philly, or even NYC.

    Reply

  2. La Vida Loca
    Jan 24, 2009 @ 02:45:35

    continue to write more about your heritage, too.

    I’ll try!

    Reply

  3. DewdropDream
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 11:38:29

    Agree with Loca. I’ve blogrlled you, hope you don’t mind.

    Thanks!

    Reply

  4. Solilo
    Jan 26, 2009 @ 04:03:36

    It is very interesting to know heritage and history of places we belong and live in.

    Minnesota must be freezing.

    Reply

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