Minnesotans know better than anyone that the weather, not the calendar, dictates our seasons. Snowfall keeps us company from roughly November to April, despite the fact that Dec. 21 marks the winter solstice and spring begins near the end of March. To cope, the St. Thomas community of old brightened their long winters with an annual event called Mid-Winter Week.
A tradition spanning from the 1950s to early 1990s, Mid-Winter Week was sponsored by the All-College Council (known today as Undergraduate Student Government), and typically ran around the end of February or beginning to middle of March. While some activities varied from year to year along with the theme, highlights that stood the test of time included a sunbathing contest, snow sculpting contest and semi-formal dance.
A caption from the 1978 Aquinas Yearbook hails Mid-Winter Week as “an inexplicable phenomenon. Students abandon their decorum, apparently to regain some of their childlike innocence by playing in the snow and going on field trips.” The festivities of that year included trips to the Guthrie, Afton Alps and a snow-tubing adventure. The dance was a combination hayride/square dance/bonfire.
Though the tradition went through several name changes, students enjoyed relatively unchanging activities for decades. Tommies in 1956 participated in an intramural hockey tourney, ski race and figure skating in that year’s Mid-Winter Frolic. The annual celebration kept the Mid-Winter Week name throughout the '70s, '80s and early '90s. The Bahama Bash-themed week in 1979 “facilitated another burst of craziness before winter descended again,” according to a yearbook excerpt.
Each year the snow sculpture and sunbathing contests awarded winners with cash prizes for their talent or bravery, depending on the event. Sunbathers, who reclined on beach chairs in their bathing suit finest, were judged on how original, impressive and convincing they were.
A bulletin advertising the sunbathing contest reads, “All you have to do is convince the judges you don't care about the four feet of snow around you, and you may win $25.” It continues by telling students that if they aren’t willing to risk frostbite, they can participate in other Mid-Winter Week activities.
Some of the masterpieces from the snow sculpting contests ranged from sculptures of dinosaurs, Richard Nixon, a Nikon camera and a dragon in 1979 to a protest sign for the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The snow sculpture contest took place in the lower quad each year while hot tubs were available on the upper quad to warm up. One year, however, students replaced the snow sculpting contest with a snowball-eating contest to combat an unusual lack of snow on the ground.
Mid-Winter Week transformed into Tommie Thaw Week in the early 2000s and included the legendary snow sculpting contest, new foods in the cafeteria, a performance by ComedySportz and a dance at the end of the week. While there were more indoor activities than in the past, students still had opportunities to go skiing and shake off any winter blues.
Though current Tommies don’t have the chance to experience these kinds of events, Mid-Winter Week lives on in the hearts of St. Thomas alumni and veteran faculty and staff.