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Winter Carnival memories: Traditions of the past and now

The 2014 Winter Carnival weekend is upon us, a tradition that imbues all of Lawrence campus with good cheer and warm thoughts.  It began in the 1930s, but the current iteration of Winter Carnival appears to be closely modeled after the celebration held during the late 1970s, when the event was organized by the Lawrence Co-Op. However, many of the events of those Winter Carnivals have been changed considerably in the following years.

The broomball contest remains a highlight of the weekend, but today the game’s rougher aspects have been refined considerably. Students today may pine for the victor’s prize of a quarter-barrel of beer, but it is doubtful they would look to reintroduce the game’s violence. According to Joe Marini’s interview in 1977, the ideal strategy for playing the game involved trying “to jack everybody you can and hope the ball goes in.” In particularly rough-and-tumble games between the Phi Delta Thetas and Phi Gamma Deltas, two fraternities now absent from campus, scrapes, bruises and even a broken finger were the normal casualties of this Winter Carnival staple.

The cross country ski team is also bringing back the ski race this year, but I would hope they may soon replicate the initial course layout: Beginning at the base of Union Hill, participants crossed Lawe, climbed the river path behind Trever Hall and then sprinted back across campus before skiing back down the hill to complete the course. Again, the prize was alcohol. What fun.

Other events held in high regard during the Winter Carnivals of 40 years ago have yet to return. The Tug-o-War contest, a classic test of strength between dormitories, remains absent from this year’s festival. The same is lamentably true of the old-fashioned sleigh rides, which took off from Alexander gymnasium. Such an event today would probably be at considerably higher cost and logistical working, but it would be pleasant all the same to see it return.

Another classic event from the 1980s, the Faculty Feud, a Family Feud-like quiz show hosted in the Viking Room, pitting faculty departments against one another in an attempt to correctly guess students’ responses to survey questions. It would be fantastic to see even more fun events like these back in the Winter Carnival schedule.

This Winter Term of 2014, cold and bitter though it may be, does not need to treated by students at Lawrence as simply a depressing time to be tolerated until spring or the price to pay for choosing a liberal arts school in Wisconsin. Winter Carnival presents an opportunity for Lawrentians to get outside, take a break from studying and share in building a community. We all should give a special thank you to this year’s organizers, and a sincere wish to see even greater expansion of the weekend’s festivities in years to come.