UP GOES WINTER – Lake Superior State University burns a 15-foot snowman last year to welcome spring to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., as it has since 1971. This year’s 48th annual Snowman Burning ceremony will be held on campus at noon on March 20. (LSSU/John Shibley)
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Members of Lake Superior State University’s maintenance department and student volunteers are working on the main attraction for the University’s time-honored tradition of welcoming spring. At high noon on Tuesday, March 20, LSSU will mark the first day of the spring season by burning a massive paper snowman, as it has done for almost 50 years. The ceremony takes place at the Cisler Center’s south plaza that faces the campus main entrance.
Spring officially arrives in the Northern Hemisphere at that same day 12:15 p.m. EDT.
The first spring snowman burning was held in March 1971 by a former campus club called the Unicorn Hunters. Traditionally, the ceremony has been held on the first day of spring to bid good-bye to winter and welcome to spring.
The ceremony takes its inspiration from the Rose Sunday Festival in Weinheim-en-der-Bergstrasse, Germany. In the festival, a parade passes through town to a central location, where the mayor makes a proposal to the town’s children: If the children are good, study, obey their parents and work hard, he will order the (straw) snowman to be burned, and spring will officially arrive. After the children yell their approval and make their promise, the snowman is burned.
Some people contend that smoke from the conflagration wards off blizzards and ushers in spring-like weather. The Unicorn Hunters validated this theory by the second or third year of the event. At that time, after the snowman was burned, a blizzard passed through the eastern Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula but missed Sault Ste. Marie.
Students and employees of the University’s maintenance department construct the snowman mostly from paper destined for the recycling bin, along with a wood and wire frame. The snowmen are husky and stand 10-12 feet. This year’s is 14 feet tall.
LSSU’s snowmen have taken on many shapes over the years. During the 1970s, when women’s liberation was a news issue, a gender-neutral ‘snow person’ was burned. In the 1980s, when clones and ‘cloning’ were first in the news, a ‘snow clone’ was torched.
This year’s creation is an oversized snowman, pure and simple.
Poetry is always cornerstone event at most snowman burnings. LSSU students, employees, retirees, townspeople, and elementary school children are encouraged to read spring-related doggerel as a torch is applied to the paper snowman. Usually, a master of ceremonies – often LSSU’s president – welcomes the crowd and gives a history of the activity. Then, as poems are read and daffodils get handed out to participants, supplemented by free hotdogs and soda, the snowman reduces itself to ash.
From introduction to conclusion, the ceremony lasts approximately 20 minutes.
Point your Web browser here to read about snowman burning’s 47-year history.