A Look Back at Colgate Tradition: Winterfest Through The Ages



A current Colgate student, immersed within the modern culture of Hamilton, can only begin to imagine a Colgate community circa 1915. At a time when the entire student, faculty and staff population comprised only of men, when women were brought in as guests for special occasions and chaperones were present at every event for supervision, what could be more fitting than a three-day gala festivity during the winter months to celebrate the season! The Colgate Outing Club, developed as an organization to fulfill the need for outdoor activities, created the Winter Carnival to unite the formal events of the time with outdoor activities, such as Ski and Snow-Shoe meets. By February 1923, Winter Carnival was well on its way to becoming an established part of Colgate’s history. According to the January 24, 1923 edition of the Colgate Maroon, the Outing Club continued to sponsor the weekend events and promised that the program of the party would “fill every minute of the merry makers’ time with some sort of festivities.” The events began on Thursday evening with a formal dinner and dance and continued through Saturday night, “until the wee hours.” The outdoor events included hiking, skiing and tobogganing, but the main event was considered the Carnival dance. At this festivity, male students along with their female guests gathered in the Gymnasium to enjoy dinner, dancing and multiple performances by several orchestras. Green and white decorations, meant to symbolize the outdoors, transformed the gymnasium into a “tiny fairyland” for the guests and students to enjoy. Despite the sporadic appearance of unpleasant weather conditions, Winter Carnival continued to be put on for years with great success. The fraternity house that won the outdoor competitions would be awarded the silver loving cup. As the years passed, the festivities began to take place over a longer period of days, culminating every year with the All-Colgate Carnival Ball. The guest lists for each fraternity house were printed in the Colgate Maroon each year as well. 1937. Female guests are expected from all corners of the United States, including California, Oregon and Texas. In a top Colgate Maroon headline story entitled, “Studies Abandoned As Fraternities Open Houses To Winter Party Guests,” it was revealed that students would attend class in tuxedo attire while escorting dates. This article is also one of the first to mention the Winter Carnival Queen. The Queen selection process appeared quite rigorous, as professors traveled from fraternity house to fraternity house in order to scrutinize each guest before making a final decision. The Queen was awarded a trophy, and an additional four women were also chosen to be her court. 1939. Winter Carnival had made quite a name for itself at Colgate. After a brief hiatus, fraternity houses could again sculpt snow figures on their front lawns to be judged in the competition. Not only was Winter Carnival a fun-filled week of outdoor competition and indoor festivities, but it appears to have been a vehicle for publishing entertainment as well. An excerpt from a 1939 article from the Colgate Maroon entitled “Parties Featured Tea And Crumpets” by, and I quote, an “ertswile reporter” named Descoop will further explicate this development:

“Dear Mr. Editor: You can take this as my notice of resignation from the so called ‘sheet’ you have the nerve to call a paper. You send me out to get an ‘advance feature for Winter Party’ when you know darn well I had my fill of ‘parties’ last weekend. In the first place everybody knows about Party; it’s like telling a man he’s going to die after you tie the noose around his neck. They know that the girls are pretty, ‘cute,’ or just plain lousy; that this is going to be one of the best Winter Parties in the history of the school; that 50 years ago they served tea and crumpets at such affairs; they know that blind dates are a risk, but what the ——, pardon me.”

Apparently, Colgate students had quite the sense of humor even back then. Various articles throughout the weeks leading up to Winter Carnival exhibit the anticipation and excitement displayed by the student body. Another article by Joe La Forte, in the “Weeping Willow” commentary column, depicts each fraternity house and its members invoking humorous satire during a stroll down fraternity row. He claimed his purpose was to “enlighten visiting girls in regard to what you can expect at each of the party scenes, to warn you in advance, so hold your seats, for here we go.” Of course, he only states this purpose after addressing the women: “Girls – girls – GIRLS!!! We are going CRAZY! Beauty, snow, spirits, Swing, laughter, and gaiety galore. Two glorious days of it! – that’s Winter Carnival!” Its anecdotes such as these that make one wonder what Colgate used to be like. Over the next few decades, Winter Carnival continued to entertain the Colgate community as well as the guests invited from across the nation. Some seasons, the Carnival was well advertised, attended and considered a huge success. During others, the festivities took a back step to other events occurring on campus and nationwide. After a 10-year dry spell, the Carnival was revived, only this time it would cause much more controversy on campus. In 1979, Winter Carnival was reorganized and the snow sculpture competition was reinstated to promote school spirit and community building. To say the least, Phi Gamma Delta’s winning snow sculpture brought the Colgate community closer together. The fraternity brothers constructed the Fiji man on their front lawn, an obtrusive symbol of racism that can be depicted as a big, stupid-looking, dark-skinned native wearing a grass skirt and wielding a spear. This figure accentuated the stereotypical black man image from the time. According to the February 16, 1979 edition of the Colgate News, the fraternity members apologized for the incident, stating they had no idea the sculpture would offend anyone. The FIJI man is a symbol of the international fraternity Phi Gamma Delta, appearing on their posters, t-shirts and even at their annual Fiji Island party. Though no racial slur was intended, the brothers of Phi Gamma Delta held an open forum to further discuss the matter with the Colgate Community. David Rodda, author of the Colgate News article entitled, “Fiji man brings chance for open discussion of racism” urged the student body to “use this issue as an opportunity to promote better understanding of the subtle discrimination” still apparent all around them. In 1979, Winter Carnival proved successful not only regarding the main events, but also in furthering the education of the larger Colgate community. By 1983, yet another scandal regarding the snow sculpture competition had emerged on campus, with a theme of “Life at Colgate” making the news. This time, the Delta Kappa Epsilon brothers are the culprits, having depicted “Life at Colgate” by creating a row of several female breasts in the snow outside their house. This scene caused quite the uproar, stirring many students to take action and speak out, not only against the obvious, disrespectful construction, but also about the larger issue at hand. The campus was in desperate need of a change in behavior and attitude between genders. Though some argue this debate still occurs today, over 20 years later, it was a Winter Carnival event that brought these once taboo issues to the forefront of discussion. By the early 1990s, the controversial concerns of past Winter Carnivals had all but disappeared, and this festival reemerged with a new name, Winterfest. The past decade has held annual events similar to those activities the current student body most likely associates with Winterfest, basically just a day long list of outdoor events. Until this season that is.The year is 2005, and Colgate Activities Board (CAB) has decided to do things a bit differently. In the spirit of reviving old traditions, the co-chairs of the CAB Special Events committee, sophomores Karlene Aiken and John Steigerwald organized a week-long calendar of events that will comprise Winterfest 2005. The festivities will commence with the fourth annual Snowball Dance at the Palace Theater beginning at 7:30 p.m. tonight. Perhaps this gala event will resemble the Winter Ball of past years, though music by Andrea Miceli and Moss might add a modern twist.Throughout the week, we can expect snow cone giveaways at the Coop by day, and a study break luau by night on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Coop, sponsored by the Colgate Activities Board (CAB), equipped with food, drink and games. And what would Winterfest be without the outdoor activities that began this great tradition in 1915 by the Outdoor Club? The culminating event, the Winter Olympics, will be held on Whitnall Field and in the Hall of Presidents (HOP) on Saturday, February 19, beginning at 10 a.m. There are 12 competitive events total, including two inflatables called Go-Racers, a human dogsled race, and Steigerwald promises a top-secret surprise as well at some point during the day. The games will conclude with an Olympic style awards ceremony. All spectators are welcome and encouraged to cheer on their friends.”We are so happy to see how many people want to get involved this year,” Aiken said. There are 22 Olympic teams total, comprised of approximately 12 members each, and many qualified groups were even denied participation due to the overwhelming number of students to sign-up. Several other student groups on campus are hosting events this upcoming week as well, including CAB Barge and the Junior Class Council. CAB Barge is an organization operating to host events at the Barge Coffee House. The committee is sponsoring the annual Arts Competition with categories consisting of fiction writing, non-fiction writing, poetry, photography and Art in general. All submissions will be judged by professors, and a first, second and third prize will be awarded. “Traditionally, students submit artwork which can be used to decorate campus and increase school spirit. It adds to the festivities of Winterfest,” senior Kevin McAvey, who is in charge of organizing the competition, said. The judging will take place on Thursday, February 17 at 4 p.m. at the Barge. Free coffee and baked goods accompany the event for all those interested. “Monica Nixon and CLSI have been amazing in helping out with everything. Invaluable resources,” McAvey said of his mentors whom he states have made Winterfest and this Arts Competition possible. The Junior Class Council is expected to host a spicy-food/chili cook-off event in conjunction with the InterFraternity Council (IFC) to begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 19 in the Commons. Fraternity and Sorority chefs as well as downtown vendors will vie for the right to crowned Hamilton’s Chili Champion, and all proceeds will be donated to a charity organization yet to be determined. “Winterfest is a great old Colgate tradition, and it’s coming back in a big way,” Junior Class Council President Saul Waller said. “I always hear,” recalls Aiken, “What is Winterfest? This year, students are going to be able to see stuff happen. It’s a huge event that everyone can be apart of.” Steigerwald agrees. “Students will actually know what’s going on,” he said. “This year is going to set a great precedent for the future.” And at such a grim time of year, Winterfest is sure to get people excited. As Waller advises, “Bundle up. It’s going to be a wild week.”