Winter Carnival

Hilexsm_1 By Erik Hare

What do you do when the temperature hits zero and there’s a strong north wind? Throw a party, of course! Outdoors. And that’s just what Saint Paul does.

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is our annual festival celebrating the biting cold.  It’s held around January 28th, the coldest day of the year on average.  It is Saint Paul’s  own tradition, complete with mythology and more than a little fun.

It all started in 1885 when a smarmy New York reporter decried Saint Paul as “Another Siberia, unfit for human habitation.”  The city fathers were outraged, but got their revenge in a unique way – and the next year the Carnival was born, with this legend:

(King) Boreas of the Winds, while on his extensive travels, came upon a winter paradise known as Minnesota. He paused to behold the enchanting beauty of a magnificent group of seven gently sloping hills in whose embrace nestled a beautiful city. Boreas whistled in sheer ecstasy. "Historic Saint Paul and her seven hills! An ideal place. I will make Saint Paul the capital of all my domains. It will henceforth be emblazoned to the world as the winter playground of the realm of Boreas".

But it was not to be forever, as spring will come one day.  There is a bit of chaos and fun throughout the realm that foreshadows the ultimate end:

On the tenth day of celebration, Vulcanus Rex and his Krewe stormed the Ice Palace. Upon the good council of his queen, Boreas bade farewell to the people of his winter capital in the interest of peace and goodwill and returned to dwell among the gods of Olympus. Boreas and his Court looked forward to the time when summer’s warmth would once again relinquish its hold on the realm and the frosty atmosphere of winter would prevail.

And so it goes. We open it all with the Grand Day Parade, when King Boreas proclaims and greets his realm.  Ten days later, he is dethroned each year in an elaborate ceremony that ends with the Torchlight Parade.  It is a sight chilling in majesty and warming with the promise of the cycles of the years. 

The Carnival has many other events between the parades, with ice and snow sculptures dotting our Downtown and a great sled run set up on Harriet Island.  Some years we even build a palace out of ice.  No matter what, it’s a lot of fun and tradition and sheer stubbornness that gets us outside when more timid souls would stay at home.

That’s what makes Saint Paul so great, after all.  We don’t really care what other people think, we just go ahead and make our own fun.  You can join, if you want – or if you’re brave enough, that is!

Erik failed to mention that he took this picture at the parade, the windchill is -10, yet when I drove through dowtown St. Paul, this afternoon the streets were full of people young and old enjoying the carnival. – Thanks Erik!

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2 Replies to “Winter Carnival”

  1. Sounds…festive. Love the mythology more than anything. Just one question: your graphic, very cute what are they?

  2. Why, those are the Hy-Lex Bleach Gnomes! The Hy-Lex company made them in the 1940s, and they marched in every parade until the company went under in the 1970s (? I think?). Local antique store man Wally Wescott (previously featured here) rescued them a few years ago, and they march again!

    It’s all about the combination of tradition and weirdness. 🙂

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