I looked up the definition of “luminary” this morning, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. According to dictionary.com, it refers to (1) a celestial body, as in the sun or moon, or (2) an object that gives light. I would also add “brings joy” to the above definitions, as that is what the luminary portion of the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival continues to do. But something has changed. I am not sure if it’s the now-corporate sponsorships or the organizers themselves who have become too highbrow in their vision.

In 2006, the luminary event began as a small ice festival to parlay off the annual Loppet ski races. Today, it is a major Twin Cities attraction, drawing thousands of spectators to Lake of the Isles after dark, there to bask in a bedazzling spectacle of lights aglow across the frozen water. There is even an “ice garden,” a fairyland of miniature ice sculptures, also illuminated with hundreds of lit candles. In the past, I have e-mailed the Loppet looking for details on how to get in on the garden, hoping to create my own ice sculpture to share. Was it a contest? Did I need to sign up somewhere to participate? Never receiving a reply, I decided to go ahead and contribute this year, not seeing any harm in adding to the pageantry.

Pouring water into molds and freezing them in the back yard, my husband jokingly dubbed it the “ice laboratory.” My older son offered to help. Our other son, away at college, begged for photos. On Saturday, we went down to the lake to set up our frozen piece, a small sculpture about the size of a doormat. Our design included various ice “hearts,” a large shard of ice with the words “Love You” etched in the center and a pair of “ice hands” holding up yet another heart, dyed red. As we worked, people stopped by to take photos. “I can’t wait to come back tonight and see it lit up,” a girl smiled as she snapped a selfie beside a heart.

We were giddy, excited to share our winter valentine. But when we returned at dusk to light our candles, our sculpture was gone. Completely dismantled and missing.

“Was that your sculpture over there?” a man in a Loppet hat asked, pointing to what was now a heap of dirty snow. He had removed our ice valentine because, in his words, there is a “quality standard” and “if we just let everyone do it, can you imagine what will end up down here?” And besides, he continued, “yours doesn’t fit the theme.”

Crestfallen, I looked at the other sculptures still standing. There was a Viking ship cutout, another with the Olympic torch. Nearby, a dozen frozen balloons, like giant gumballs in the snow. There was an ice block with bright orange “fish” frozen inside. There were some ice toadstools. Vikings, gumballs, mushrooms, fish clearly made from a Jell-O mold. Aside from creativity, I couldn’t discern a theme.

My ice hearts had been dumped into a bin. The “Love You” shard was in a bush. The frozen ice hands and their little red heart were nowhere to be seen. We salvaged what we could and trudged home, holding each piece like a sacred panel of stained glass.

Feeling as if we had been punched in the gut, we determined that we would recreate our ice sculpture in our own front yard, even though it would be like reassembling a shattered apple pie.

Which brings me back to the definition of “luminary.” Something that enlightens, gives off light and, in my opinion, brings joy. As we lodged broken hearts into our lawn and tried to light candles behind them, we couldn’t help laughing. The wind kept blowing out our candles and then restarting them again, as if to say “don’t let one nasty old gust get you down.” It dawned on me then that regardless of stringent rules and overearnest gatekeepers, there will always be magic in a flickering candlewick and spending time with those you love. Hopefully, the organizers of the Loppet will reacquaint themselves with this meaning of “luminary” as well. That every bit of light, big or small, can enlighten. I do believe that is what the original founders intended. To shine for all, not shun for some.


Audrey Colasanti is a 20-year resident of the Lake of the Isles area of Minneapolis. She is a past volunteer for the Loppet and was part of the small group of neighborhood families who helped Hal Galvin — the brainchild behind the luminarias — bring the event to life eight years ago.