The Minnesotan accent is well-known and easily mocked. Yah, sure we use phrases like “you betcha” and could easily trademark “ope, sorry,” but no place is more proud of the unique blend of German and Scandinavian heritage that contributed to the long vowels used so frequently in this northern dialect. The accent isn’t the only thing we held onto, though. Traditions keep us going through the long, slow end to winter. As we usher in spring, we’re one of the last places up north to see the ice disappear on the lake and the snow mounds melt for good. By gathering to celebrate spring holidays, we take time to reflect on a few traditions and soak up the last days of winter and the first days of spring.
Starting with a night-time hike on Friday, March 6, grab your snowshoes and hit the Oberholtzer Trail to explore the woods and wildlife that come out at night with the “Night Eyes Snowshoe Hike” from 7 to 8:30 PM. It’s a method of travel used for centuries and it’s a heck of a lot quieter than the engine of a snowmobile or the roar of an ATV. Get ready for some serious quiet time to connect with nature in a whole new way. This is a self-guided hike, so you’ll be free to go at your own pace and stop to see the owl or fox that share the trail. Start at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center and let your curiosity guide you deeper and deeper into the dim-lit woods that are humming with nocturnal creatures.
In mid-March, celebrate the Finnish or Irish Saint (or both) that are traditionally synonymous with the start of spring. St. Urho’s Day is quirky and just what we need to break our late-winter cabin fever. This holiday that takes place on March 16 celebrates a make-believe saint who is said to have driven away the grasshoppers from Finland in order to save their grape crop. Originating in Virginia, MN, Northern Minnesotans take this holiday pretty seriously and welcome anyone to celebrate this bizarre and fun holiday.
St. Patrick’s Day, on March 17, celebrates a saint who is said to have chased unwelcome snakes out of Ireland. This impressive feat was given an entire holiday celebrating Irish culture and history. Pack something green or risk being pinched, or so says tradition.
All of this foreshadows the first official day of spring in the northern hemisphere, March 19. It might not feel like spring up here, but this sweet spot between winter and spring means wildlife galore. Between the heavy walleye activity on Rainy River and wildlife that is just starting to come out of hibernation, there’s plenty to see and do. Whether you choose to celebrate a saint or discover one of the most beautiful landscapes in Minnesota by snowshoe, there’s an activity for you up here. It’s all waiting to be explored, don’t cha know?
The holidays are over and winter is now in full swing. The bitter cold seems less intense under the mid-day sun and the wind comes and goes leaving moments of stillness in between. The temps are low (or below zero) and daylight is short. But up north, we don’t let this slow us down. In fact, we embrace the cold. Not just because we’ve built up a tolerance to frigid air, but because staying active keeps the winter blues away and gives us a special, rare glimpse into nature’s stark beauty that comes only in the deepest part of winter.
What are the secrets to a perfect winter day? We’re glad you asked. Here’s how we’d spend every precious moment of daylight in our beautiful corner of Voyageurs National Park.
Through the years, suffering the cold has become a sort of challenge that we celebrate. It’s a challenge that many accept excitedly and many more accept begrudgingly. For instance, do you remember the ice bucket challenge where you dump a bucket of ice over a friend (or victim) for charity? Or the various snowball fights you had as a child or maybe still have, because who ever really grows out of wanting to play in the snow? We take stock in knowing that we’ve embraced the cold and we’re always a little rosier and prouder for doing so. It goes beyond our backyard though, with communities around the country celebrating winter’s beauty and coming together to make something magical, memorable, and fulfilling. It’s not just that we’re trying to beat the cold, but find a reason to make something meaningful because of it. In Leavenworth, Washington, they celebrate winter with the Bavarian Icefest which includes outdoor games, treats, and a stroll down a stunning street adorned with holiday lights. In our neighbor state of Wisconsin, they celebrate Winter Fest with art, music, and various family events and friendly competitions.
In International Falls, we have our own winter celebrations and, not to brag, but we’ve become quite famous for them. With several national news stations and big-name writers coming to check out Icebox Days and watch runners shiver through the Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run, we proudly own the “Icebox of the Nation” nickname. You’ll be hard pressed to find a colder place in the US than International Falls, MN, on any given day in January. But it’s just that challenge that we accept gladly as we prepare to celebrate the 40th Annual Icebox Days Winter Festival.
If you’re ready to celebrate the cold with us, there’s a plethora of activities to choose from in order to stay warm, and most importantly, have fun in January. To help you get organized, here are a few suggestions to make the most out of your festival weekend:
Want to see what Icebox Days from years past looked like? Read on from our blog here.