The 134th annual St. Paul Winter Carnival is returning to a renovated Rice Park and adding drag queen bingo to its familiar parades and other frosty traditions.
The state’s quintessential cold-inspired carnival began Thursday and runs until Feb. 2. Festivities will expand into Landmark Plaza this year, which will be the scene of snow and ice displays and a range of family-friendly activities.
“We’re a very traditional festival. We’ve been around for 134 years, so we’re always going to have our same traditions,” said Deb Schaber, president and CEO of the Winter Carnival. “But we like to add some new flairs and just kind of keep ourselves relevant.”
Some rituals of the “Coolest Celebration on Earth” are sticking around: two parades, a coronation ceremony and ice carving.
Artisans began carving into giant blocks of ice Thursday evening with 48 hours to complete their masterpieces. As usual, their glacial sculptures will be on display for the more than a quarter-million visitors who show up throughout the festival.
The carnival will also be home to a handful of new attractions, including drag queen bingo at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
“We just wanted to try something new, and it’s kind of trendy right now,” Schaber said. She said she hoped the light-hearted event would help promote inclusivity and diversity.
The Hops and Hounds event invites carnivalgoers to have a beer and hang out with their pups in Rice Park on Sunday. Visitors can bring their dog and drink from a selection of Minnesota craft beers. Sgt. Fuzz, the St. Paul Police Department therapy dog, will also be on patrol.
Two Olympians from Minnesota will be promoting the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics during first two days of February — curling gold-medal winner Tyler George and Paralympic swimming gold-medal winner Mallory Weggemann. The Olympic torch will also be passing through, and visitors will be able to take their photo with it.
In the expanded space on Landmark Plaza, the Baileys Warming House will offer cocktails and craft beers to frigid festival attendees, along with games and live entertainment from local musicians.
Vulcan Snow Park will take over the Minnesota State Fairgrounds again with an estimated 3,000 tons of snow. The park will offer a giant snowslide, sculptures and events like the Polar Plunge.
For those with something to prove, the Securian Financial 35th Annual Winter Run begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at 6th and Jackson streets. Also Saturday, four judges will choose the best felines at the Saintly City Championship Cat Show at RiverCentre.
A full list of events is available at wintercarnival.com.
J.D. Duggan is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.