St. Paul Winter Carnival to host drive-thru, pop-up and virtual events for 2021

The annual carnival is changing things up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including moving events out of Rice Park in downtown St. Paul.
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The 135th St. Paul Winter Carnival is a go, with some changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The festival, which is the oldest winter festival in the country, will be held Jan. 28-Feb. 7 (100 days from Wednesday) at various locations around St. Paul instead of at Rice Park.

“The Winter Carnival was created in 1886 to show the world how St. Paul embraces winter,” Deb Schaber, president and CEO of the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation, 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. 

"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," Schaber added. 

While some traditions have to change due to COVID-19 (there won't be parades and it won't be held in Rice Park due to size limitations), event organizers are planning to continue with many of the festival's free signature events – just with a twist – as well as adding new activities to get people outside and enjoying winter.

Here's a look at them:

Ice and Snow Sculpture Park

Carnival planners are going the route many event organizers are taking and turning popular festivals into a drive-thru affair. That's what the annual ice carving competition and snow sculpture contest will be. 

Held every day of the carnival at the Ice and Snow Sculpture Park, which has moved from Rice Park to the fairgrounds in Falcon Heights, attendees will drive along a route to see the ice masterpieces sculpted by local artists and vote on their favorites.

Meanwhile, the Winter Carnival Vulcans will manage the snow sculpture attraction, coordinating the snowmaking and annual Snow Stomp event. 

When vehicles enter the drive-thru event, they'll get a swag bag and bingo card, and along the route will have the opportunity to buy some treats.

Winter Carnival Music Series

The annual Winter Carnival Music Series is going on the road – it'll be held outdoors at parking lots around St. Paul during the carnival's run. 

Carnival organizers say doing it this way offers an opportunity to support local restaurants, breweries and entertainment venues, many of which have been struggling financially amid the pandemic. 

The venues will serve the food and drinks, while the Winter Carnival will bring its famous ice bar.

Winter Carnival Family Days and Frozen Family Fun Night

The Winter Carnival's Family Days are going virtual this year. 

For both Saturdays during the carnival (Jan. 30 and Feb. 6), the Winter Carnival will host Family Day activities live on its website, Facebook page and YouTube channel (with re-runs available), allowing families to participate from home. 

Meanwhile, the carnival's Frozen Family Fun Night offers an opportunity to get outdoors. The all-ages event will be held at Keg and Case in St. Paul, and will include performances, visits by snow princesses, a bonfire and other activities. 

Winter Run and a softball tournament

The annual Winter Run, which serves as a fundraiser for the foundation that puts on the carnival, will be held Jan. 30. The 5K run will be around Lake Phalen, while runners can also participate virtually with a 5K, 10K or half marathon.

If running a few miles in winter isn't your thing, the Winter Carnival is bringing back a "classic hit" from years past – the Winter Carnival Softball Tournament. 

Games will be held at a to-be-determined field in St. Paul on Feb. 6, with registration beginning in January. 

Puzzle competition

This year, people can participate in the carnival's popular puzzle contest virtually via Zoom on Jan. 31, allowing teams to compete against each other remotely from home.

There will be an in-person competition, too, held on Jan. 30. The socially distanced event will be held at the Landmark Center.

Scavenger hunt

There will be three different scavenger hunts this year – Family Friendly Explore St. Paul Parks; St. Paul History and Landmarks; and Local Fun and Attractions – that will give people the chance to get out and explore St. Paul while being socially distanced.

Carnival buttons

The Winter Carnival wouldn't be a carnival without the Carnival Buttons, which serve as the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation's largest fundraiser. 

Local artist Adam Turman will design the four 135th anniversary buttons, which will be unveiled and on sale in early December.

Klondike Kate gets another year

Every year, the Winter Carnival crowns a new Royal Family, Vulcans and Klondike Kate, but that won't happen this year.

They were crowned shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shutdown in Minnesota, with carnival organizers saying due to the pandemic they "did not have the opportunity to practice their parade wave, meet new friends in the community or travel to other festivals." 

Instead, Boreas and his court, Vulcanus Rex and his Krewe and Kate will reign for another year.

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