The St. Paul Winter Carnival is back with changes for 2021

Joseph Palumbo


(Molly Steinke)

For 135 years, the St. Paul Winter Carnival has been one of the city’s most beloved events. Almost every winter since 1886, the carnival has brought the citizens of Minnesota’s capital out in droves into the bitter cold to celebrate the heritage of our fair city. This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, health and safety precautions will take the long-awaited carnival in a whole different direction. 

Traditionally located in Rice Park, the carnival will take place at an assortment of venues (due to size limitations) both online and within city limits. President and CEO of the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation Deb Schaber said in a statement, “We believe we’ve created a schedule of events for our 135th anniversary that our carnival creators would be proud of and our current day fans can enjoy safely.” With concerns of the pandemic in mind, Shaber further states, “The majority of our 2021 events will be held outdoors and all will abide by COVID-19 required protocols such as social distancing and mask-wearing,”. 

Such events will include the carnival’s Frozen Family Fun Night. This all-ages event will be held at Keg and Case Market on West Seventh, and will include musical performances, visits by snow princesses, a bonfire and other activities. Other events include: a drive-thru ice and snow sculpture garden, a winter run, a puzzle competition and scavenger hunts across St. Paul. Tickets for the new drive-through ice and snow park are currently on sale. Prices start at $20 per vehicle. 

There will be a socially distanced ice fishing tournament on Feb. 7 using the tournament fishing app FishDonkey. Those who catch and send in a photo of the biggest fish will win. If participants are wearing a winter carnival button in the picture, they will get a prize. 

The winter carnival wouldn’t be what it is without the carnival buttons, which represent the St.Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation’s largest fundraiser. Local artist Adam Turman designed the four anniversary buttons, inspired by St. Paul winter mainstays. 

The winter carnival is also working with breweries in St. Paul and the East Metro to offer a drink passport. The more venues you visit, the more chances you have to win prizes like cocktail kits, tea and coffee baskets, $100 gift cards and more.

Every year, organizations associated with the winter carnival select a new Royal Family, Vulcan Krewe and Klondike Kate. Though the traditional parade is canceled, these endearing characters will make appearances on the side of the road instead of walking down the middle of it. Despite initial fears that there would be no costumed cast, the organizers have assured the public that this compromise will be safe and fun while keeping the long-held tradition alive. 

Alyssa Olson, a member of the St. Paul Winter Carnival committee, summarizes the spirit of the carnival by stating “Everything we try to do, everything we try to create each year, is really just moving toward inclusivity and celebration, and just providing something new and fun to the community.” 

Even in the face of a global pandemic, the winter carnival moves forward. It may not be in a familiar form, but the values Olson mentions remain the same. It is these values, be they in the best of times or times as bitter as the ice-cold weather, that perfectly explain why the St. Paul Winter Carnival means so much to so many.

(Adam Turman)