ST. Paul Winter Festival

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival takes place annually at the end of January, one of the coldest months in what is known as the coldest metropolitan area in the United States. It features elaborate ice sculptures, a winter parade, royalty and coronation and a much-elaborated mythic tale of the Vulcans antagonism of King Boreas’ winter turning to spring.  Deeply integral to the growth of the smaller of the twin cities of the north, the St. Paul Winter Carnival dates back to 1886 when a New York Times columnist reported that Saint Paul was “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation in the winter.” The Winter Carnival was thus created to disprove the defamatory editorial and encourage westward expansion and settlement into the hinterlands of a newly established union. The goal was to entertain local residents with festive relief, but also, importantly, as we found in our research on the St. Paul Winter Carnival, its purpose historically and presently has been to develop an economic base and partnership among Saint Paul’s small business owners and middle class emerging elites.

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival attracts families from all over Minnesota to participate in events including a medallion hunt with a cash prize, ice sculptures, parades, and special events at local restaurants and bars. Over the two weeks of the carnival, crowds gather at Rice Park in downtown Saint Paul to experience the sights including ice sculptures, vendor booths, night parades and other festivities that take place both in the Park as well as within the indoor warmth of the famous Saint Paul Hotel, where families can purchase treats like hot chocolate and rice crispy treats. The main attraction is the parade that takes place highlighting the King and Queen of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, as well as the newly crowned North, East, South, and West Princes and Princesses.  The royal system is based on an invented myth that King Boreas and his court of the Winter Palace rejoice in winter revelries until the fiery winds of the Vulcans melt the icy realm with spring. The carnival events correspond with this staged battle between the forces of winter and spring, as the Vulcans challenge the reign of winter and bring with them a warmer respite from the harsh winter season.  The royal court is chosen the previous night at the coronation ceremony held in the convention center downtown.

During the first weekend of the Winter Carnival, the King, Queen, and North, East, South, and West winds that make up his court are crowned.  Princesses are ‘wed’ to each of the princes based on these directions. The Vulcans appear during the coronation to mock the court and challenge King Boreas. The Vulcans appear in city parks with a classic fire truck, and adorned in capes and sunglasses or goggles, taunting the members of the court with the threat of spring.  Every year, residents of Saint Paul enjoy the epic battle between the court and the Vulcans, with children ultimately cheering on the Vulcans, in the hopes that they will be victorious in bringing in the spring.

One of the main functions of the court is to fundraise every year for the Winter Carnival in the hopes of being one day crowned Kings or Winds in the years to come. Many of the individuals that make up the court continue to participate in Winter Carnivals for decades, and came from families that had been involved with the winter carnival in decades past.  These individuals and families travel throughout the country to other Winter Carnivals making friends and building relationships with other court systems along the way.

[Written by Angela Marino and Beatriz Herrera].

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