The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is in full swing this weekend. This is the time when we celebrate (and embrace) the cold weather. There are events ranging from parades to ice carving to snow sculpting to hockey games to outdoor beer gardens to Red Bull Crashed Ice and a sleigh and cutter rally too. Although we’ve had some serious cold weather this past week our snowfall has been minimal. But there was enough for the sleighs and horses to be out today. With temperatures right around freezing and a light snow coming down it seemed like I had been transported to a different era. Many of the drivers were dressed in period clothing to match their sleighs or wagons, and the horses seemed to enjoy the open space and the snow as they trotted along. There were one and two-horse sleighs, and a few sleighs pulled by ponies whose feet had to work overtime to cover the same distance as the horses. This driver and his matched team seemed to be reveling in the event and the weather. The image made me think that they had been out for a drive and were now headed back to the comfort and warmth of their respective home and barn.
Amidst a light coating of snow and a bright and sunny day, I went to the 36th annual sleigh & cutter festival that was put on by the St. Croix Horse & Carriage Society. Because of our lack of significant snow this year I wasn’t sure if the event was going to take place. But this year’s smaller snowfall was much easier on the horses and ponies than last year’s two to three feet of snow that they tried valiantly to move through. With the somewhat “mild” temperature of 20 degrees and sunshine, the horses seemed to enjoy the outing, moving easily across the open spaces and kicking up a light dusting of snow. The drivers were dressed in period costumes and the horses and ponies were adorned with bells that rang and echoed across the course. If you were to block out the sound of the cars traveling on the boulevard nearby it would have been easy to think that the year was 1900 when this was the mode of transportation for winter days.
In the bracing cold of winter, we Minnesotans can not be said to shy away from outdoor activities! And yet Mother Nature has played a cruel trick on us here in the Twin Cities this year. In what is traditionally the coldest time of the season we have had temperatures above freezing, and rain…requiring some adjustments on our activities. This was the weekend of the US Pond Hockey tournament on Lake Nokomis. Unfortunately the rinks were covered with 2 to 3 inches of water, making a puck useless, and postponing the presentation of the Golden Shovel award to a later date. This was also the beginning of our Winter Carnival in Saint Paul — an annual celebration of the enjoyment of our white season. The Vulcans were out en force, celebrating in their raucous tradition, and getting ready for their overthrow of King Boreas in the upcoming week. And there was a sleigh and cutter rally at Lake Phalen, where the horses and ponies were tromping through slush and standing water, rather than gliding along over inches and feet of snow. But we know that winter is not done yet. There are predictions of colder temps returning again. In the meantime, we’ll promise to enjoy the winter, adjust to Mother Nature’s schedule, and revel in whatever is doled out to us.
We are now celebrating the St. Paul Winter Carnival. For 122 years we have embraced our cold winter weather, finding excuses to join 350,000 other carnival visitors reveling in outdoor activities for “the coolest celebration on earth.” We layer and bundle and venture out in temperatures that hover at zero degrees. The carnival is based on a legend of Boreas, the King of the Winds, and his enemy Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire, battling for spring and summer to overcome the cold of winter. Lucky for us, Vulcanus Rex and his Vulcan Krewe prevail each year, giving us the promise of warmer weather to come. There are parades, ice carving and snow sculpture contests, hockey tournaments, sledding, skiing, and a sleigh and cutter rally. This year’s sleigh and cutter festival was held at the Phalen Park Golf Course and included members of the St. Croix Horse & Carriage Society. Under crisp, blue skies there were beautiful sleighs, costumed drivers, and stunning horses. It was easy to lose yourself and be transported back to the late 1800’s or early 1900’s when this was the mode of winter transportation.