Winter Carnival

Saint Paul Winter Carnival - A Minnesota Tradition 1992

The 1992 Winter Carnival Ice Castle at night, a warm sight in the middle of winter.

I took a break from my quilting today to celebrate Winter Carnival here in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Billed as “The Coolest Celebration on Earth,” this year marks the 125th anniversary of the festival. For those of you who live in warmer climates, you may marvel at the very idea. But when you live in a wintry wonderland, all that cold and snow is much more fun if you find ways to enjoy it.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival - A Minnesota Tradition 1886

The first ice palace, in 1886, the year that Saint Paul started the Winter Carnival.

Apparently it started in 1886 when an East Coast reporter wrote that Saint Paul in the dead of winter was not fit for human habitation. The city responded by holding the first Winter Carnival, complete with its own story that has become part of the state mythology. King Borealis and the Queen of the Snows, royalty selected with great pomp and circumstance every year, reign over the happy days. Activities include sports events like a marathon, speed skating and sled races, parades, parties, snow and ice sculpting contests, a popular treasure hunt, and more. Many years the centerpiece of the carnival is an ice palace, but the budget did not allow it this year.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival - Vulcans on Patrol

The Vulcan's Fire and Brimstone Krewe strive to beat winter, with sooty faces and red cape.

Throughout Winter Carnival, the Vulcans, clad in red capes and blackened faces, are known to crash these events and spread threats of melting snow and warmer weather. The last day of the Carnival features a storming of the ice palace or other appropriate battle, as the Vulcan Prince dethrones King Borealis and promises to bring Spring back (eventually.)

Saint Paul Winter Carnival - Aspiring Klondike Kates

Klondike Kate Contestants help warm the event.

Somewhere along the line Klondike Kate got into the act. Every year people compete for her title, singing bodaciously in a manner that would make any early settler of Minnesota blush. All in good fun, of course. Klondike Kate hosts many parties and keeps spirits high.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival - Ready for Sled Parade

Halloween costumes found new use in the 1986 Sled Parade.

The 100th anniversary of Winter Carnival was a big year for my family. The boys took second place in the kiddie sled parade, bravely marching the four block route downtown while dragging their decorated sled on that subzero afternoon. Later, the top three sleds and their owners got to ride on a special float in the big people parade, quite exciting all in all.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival - A Minnesota Tradition 1986

The 1986 ice palace was smaller than planned, but NBC's Today Show broadcast from it and we were there.

That year had practically no snow, and the cold came late, but in time to build an ice palace. The weather changed midway through construction so the palace was lopsided and missing a tower, but quite modern and stunning. The colored lights at night made it seem magical. A Friday morning found me hauling my sons and their buddies over to see the palace the day they finished construction and took the scaffolding down. I had no idea that NBC’s Today show was broadcasting live there that day. As I was telling the kids the story of the Vulcans, we were suddenly swooped upon by the red-caped crew, scaring the kids silly! Apparently we were also captured by the TV cameras, as friends and family were phoning all day to say they had seen us on the Today Show.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival - Ice Sculptures in the Park

Dozens of ice sculptures adorn the parks during Winter Carnival.

I think my favorite event of Winter Carnival is the ice carving competition. A downtown park is filled with huge ice blocks, which are carefully carved by a hundred artists into fascinating creatures, buildings, and winter scenes. The park has skating rinks, tiny lights everywhere, and even an ice bar serving ice wine. Some years the sculptures stand for ages, other they melt nearly as fast as they are finished. This year they will stick around a while. All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a winter’s day.

©2011, The Curious Quilter,,


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
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7 Responses to Winter Carnival

  1. Burrrrr! Too cold for me, but it does look like fun.

  2. katieQ says:

    Thank you for sharing the story of Winter Carnival. We’ve got a ton of snow here in New York this year, but no one is celebrating it. Maybe we should take a tip from the hardy citizens of St. Paul.

  3. Trish L. says:

    What a neat story and carnival! It’s too bad there is no castle this year, sad that noone could just even build a smaller one. Those photos are awesome, thanks for sharing them.
    Hope your days warm up soon up there.
    Hugs, Trish

  4. Pat B from MN says:

    Thanks for more info on the Winter Carnival; I knew parts of it but not some of what you shared today. I, too, admire the ice sculptures, it is incredible what the carvers can do to the ice. I don’t live in the Cities so I see the Winter Carnival on the news.

  5. treadlemusic says:

    It’s sad the the ice palace/structure could not have been done in some fashion (big/gigantic is not always necessary!) but there is much more to this celebration. Rice park is, also, like a wonderland! Having grown up, and living in St. Paul for the first 25 years of my live, I was witness to many of the early parades, etc. The ice rink in front of Field Schlick Department Store (bought years later by Daytons) was always a treat to experience. Thank you for sharing. Doreen

    • I worked at the old Field’s store while in school, it is a parking ramp now, alas even Dayton’s is no more. The palaces are fun, but the activities are great too! Come back and visit some winter!

  6. sartenada says:

    How lovely. It must have been an experience!

    Here in Finland we do not have such kind of Snow Festivals, but we build every year World’s Biggest SnowCastle:

    Happy Friday!

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