Celebrating its 119th anniversary the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival remains to be one of the longest-running events in the Eastern United States. Named after the Upper, Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes located nearby, the village promises a ten day festival throughout various locations, all of which have welcomed more and more visitors each year. Every February the carnival has brought people together in celebration with traditional winter-themed events and cultural activities which has come to be recognised as the second best in the world by National Geographic Traveller magazine in 2012. Instead of waiting for the freezing months to pass over, the village takes advantage of the cold season and has created a series of winter sporting events to simultaneously allow visitors to be entertained and stay warm.
The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival dates back to the late 1880s where the village used to be a logging community settled within the Adirondack region until it became dedicated to researching nature and cures for those afflicted with tuberculosis. With its entrancing scenery and amiable locals, patients were given not only a safe haven to overcome health conditions yet also received relief by participating in organised activities and relaxation methods. Some years later, the Pontiac Club arranged the first ever Mid-Winter Carnival with snow games, a parade and an ice tower which later transform into the Ice Palace. 100 years later, the carnival is now a ten day affair which holds friendly competitions, Christmas-themed games, performances, two parades, concerts and three sets of bright firework displays.
Traditions such as the Winter Carnival button, was born in 1981 when Garry Trudeau designed buttons and artwork with characters from his famous comic strip “Doonesbury” doing things related to the carnival theme. The buttons may be purchased at shops and stands throughout the entire village. Trudeau grew up in Saranac Lake, and is the great-grandson of Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau, the physician who set up the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium and the Saranac Laboratory for the Study of Tuberculosis; both of which were dedicated to finding a cure for tuberculosis.
Every year on the first Friday night of the festival, a Winter Carnival King and Queen are chosen from village residents based on their participation in volunteer work, while the prince and princess are from North Country Community College and Paul Smith’s College; two local colleges. Afterwards, the “royal family” socialise with the other citizens, promoting joviality and good cheer.
Activities in traditional winter sporting are popular in this cold weather; some of which consist of skating races, ski races, hockey games, and snowshoeing, which take place at the Dewey Mountain Cross-Country Ski Centre and the Mount Pisgah Ski Centre. Another program of diverse sporting activities are also available, which include Snowflake Volleyball, Snowshoe Softball, Ultimate Frisbee Games, Firemen’s Broomball, a curling contest, and a demonstration of woodsmen’s logging skills. A number of cultural events are also part of the schedule, including concerts, fireworks, themed parades, outdoor movie nights, theatrical performances, a chocolate festival and the annual Rotary Club Variety Show.
The focal point of the carnival is the Ice Palace which is constructed out of crystalline blocks taken from Lake Flower and is then illuminated with coloured lights. Over the years, the complex was designed by well-known architects, yet it is now built by local volunteers and sponsors hoping to carry on the tradition of creating the artistic centre piece with a voted theme. When the warm weather started creeping around the corner, the ice that was dismantled from the palace used to be sold in New York City during the summertime as a means to cool drinks; however, the ice is now transported back to the lake until winter comes once again.
For decades, Saranac Lake has offered guests a place to rejuvenate and become high-spirited as the winter season progressed. Its history has shown a dedication to helping visitors by offering them ten days of frivolous fun and a tight-knit community that welcomes both locals and visitors from abroad.
To find out more about the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival: www.saranaclakewintercarnival.com
How might history shape contemporary festivals of today?