January in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is always the coolest time on account of the annual Saint Paul Winter Carnival that’s taking place from January 26 to February 4 this year. Taking inspiration from their Canadian neighbors, the people of Saint Paul show the world just how fun the icy winter can be. This carnival — holding the distinction of being the oldest winter festival in the United States — has been held almost yearly ever since its inception, except during World War II.
History of Saint Paul Winter Carnival
New York reporters visiting Saint Paul in the fall of 1885 made the mistake of likening it to Siberia, also calling it unfit for human habitation. And so, the Saint Paul Chamber of Commerce decided to prove their city was not just liveable but fun too. Seeing their neighbors over in Montreal hold a Winter Carnival sparked an idea. Saint Paul decided they would host their own carnival, basing it on their neighbors’ model. They worked with the city of Montreal, adapting their tradition of creating ice sculptures, among other activities. Saint Paul also adapted the legend of Boreas, originally written by newspaper columnist Frank Madden in 1937.
As the legend says, the union of two gods — Astraios and Eos — produced five sons. The oldest, Boreas, was given the title of “King of the Winds.” Boreas chanced upon a winter wonderland called Minnesota while traveling and decided it would be the capital of his entire domain. Vulcanus Rex, aka the god of Fire, aka Boreas’s enemy, didn’t like this at all. He vowed to stop all of Boreas’s celebrations. Boreas was not afraid and declared a celebration — a carnival — to celebrate winter in Saint Paul. And so, for 10 days, there were celebrations and festivities, and special guests like the Queen of Snows and a lady of song and merriment called Klondike Kate.
All year round, volunteers dressed as characters from this legend visit local and national festivals, nursing homes, schools, and hospitals, on behalf of Saint Paul’s Winter Carnival and the city of Saint Paul.
The festival is produced by the Saint Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation. Hundreds of corporate and individual members, along with specially employed staff, support the Board of Directors to pull off this event, with donations coming in from individuals and corporate organizations.
Saint Paul Winter Carnival timeline
In response, Saint Paul creates a Winter Carnival to show the world how their citizens enjoy winters, inviting people all over to join in the festivities.
Inspired by Montreal's Winter Carnival, Saint Paul holds a similar festival, complete with activities.
Clues are printed in the Saint Paul ‘Pioneer Press,’ and the winners receive a prize and the honor of riding in the closing parade.
The Carnival grows over the years and this year, it is scheduled to extend from January 28 to February 6.
Saint Paul Winter Carnival FAQs
What festival was the inspiration for the Saint Paul Winter Carnival?
Montreal’s Winter Carnival, with its ice castles, legends, and other snowy activities, was the inspiration behind the Saint Paul Winter Carnival.
When did the Saint Paul Winter Carnival begin?
One of the oldest civic celebrations in the country, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival began in 1886.
Is the Saint Paul Winter Carnival free?
Most events in the Saint Paul Winter Carnival are free and open to the public. Some activities, however, require tickets to be purchased in advance.
Saint Paul Winter Carnival Activities
Have fun at the Winter Carnival
Plan a visit to Saint Paul, Minnesota in January and indulge in various winter festivities. Participate in the treasure hunt, watch the parade, and join the various activities
Learn about the legend
From Frank Madden’s original tale to the more recent iterations, every version of the Winter Carnival legend is a fun read. Find out more about this legend online or on the official Saint Paul Winter Carnival website.
Share the fun
Make it a family event; take everyone — young and old — along. Show everyone how much fun you've had, and maybe the next time you plan to visit the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, you'll have a much bigger bunch of people coming along.
5 Fun Saint Paul Winter Carnival Activities
Ice fishing tournament
This month-long activity looks exactly as it sounds — participants register to compete with each other in an ice fishing tournament.
A puzzle contest
Participants put the pieces together in the nation's 'Largest Jigsaw Puzzle Contest', and participate in teams made up of the entire family.
The Vulcan Snow Park
The Saint Paul Vulcans — a community organization that works on behalf of Saint Paul — organizes this, where people can frolic and play in the snow and enjoy snow sculptures.
Fire & Ice Run/Walk
Runners and walkers enjoy a beautiful run/walk, with a special run/walk event held just for kids.
A mainstream attraction, this activity is adopted from the Montreal Winter Carnival; crowdsourced funds help create wondrous ice structures that people can (sometimes) even explore.
Why We Love Saint Paul Winter Carnival
Winter can be fun
A carnival glorifying this awesome season and all it offers is like the icing on the cake. It promotes unity and offers family-friendly events.
Who doesn't love an ice castle?
They're not the only thing to recommend the winter carnival to newbies, but they are certainly one of our favorites. We also can’t resist the ice fishing and the parades.
It is a community festival
There’s something for everyone — young, old, tall, short. Plus, the organizers also support charitable causes and promote volunteerism.
Saint Paul Winter Carnival dates