the first day of Spring (since 1971)
Unicorn Hunters in 1971
Every year, at Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, a large paper snowman is burned to celebrate the end of winter and to welcome spring. Known as Snowman Burning, the event was first held in 1971, being started by the Unicorn Hunters, a now-dissolved LSSU student club. Held on the first day of spring, legend says the smoke that is given off during the burn wards off blizzards and ushers in the new season.
The event is open to the public. A master of ceremonies usually welcomes the gathered crowd and gives a history of the burning. Poetry is a central part of the event, but how it is incorporated has varied over the years. Poems about the burning snowman have been composed by citizens and schoolchildren, and by students, faculty, and staff of the university, and have been read as the snowman has burned. In recent years, the poems used have been part of a poetry contest. Free food and beverages are available at Snowman Burning. Chiefly, hot dogs are barbecued and served by the student government.
The event was inspired by the Rose Sunday Festival that is held in Weinheim-an-der-Bergstrasse, Germany. At that event, a parade goes through town to a central location, where the mayor makes a proposal to the town's children: if they agree to be good—to do their homework and obey their parents—he or she will agree to have the straw snowman burned, which will compel spring to officially arrive. After the children yell their approval and make their promise, the snowman is lit.
Standing about 10 or 12 feet in height and husky in nature, the snowman at Snowman Burning is made of a skeleton of wood and covered with paper that would otherwise be recycled. Straw, wire, and paint are also commonly used to make it. It has taken on different characters over the years, reflecting the times. For example, during the 1970s, during the height of the women's liberation movement, a "snow person" was burned instead of a snowman.
In 1980, during the Iran Hostage Crisis, a Snow Ayatollah Khomeni was burned. Two years later, at a time when cloning was first in the news, a "snow clone" went up in flames. In the late 1980s and early '90s, the snowman took on the form of a hypothetical player of a rival hockey team, usually of a team that the Lakers were soon to play. After complaints that this brought bad luck, this theme was dropped. In 2009, the snowman represented corporate greed.
The event was once canceled, in 1992, after the campus's Environmental Awareness Club brought their concerns to the University on the day before the event was to be held. Many residents, business people, and local politicians were furious about the abrupt cancellation. Reporters interviewed students on campus, and students gathered at the spot where the event was to be held, to read poetry, hand out daffodils, and call for the snowman's burning. The event was started back up the following year and has continued since.
How to Observe
Ideally, the day should be celebrated by traveling to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and taking part in the Snowman Burning event. Listen to some poetry, watch the snowman get lit, and eat some hot dogs. In advance of the day, you could even write your own Snowman Burning poem and enter into the poetry contest. If you can't make it to Snowman Burning, you could watch videos of past burns or build your own snowman to burn at home.