Breaking the cold winter ice

Winter Carnival creates a warm atmosphere that stands for more than drinking and partying

Winter Carnival creates a warm atmosphere that stands for more than drinking and partying

Winter Carnival creates a warm atmosphere that stands for more than drinking and partying | Photo by Shelby Blackley

December 22 is the darkest day of the year and it’s around this time we’re forced to come to terms with the harsh realities of winter in Canada. Going outside isn’t simply opening the door, it’s finding your hat, scarf, gloves and changing your soggy socks after you stepped in that damn puddle of water from your winter boots. As Canadians, how do we respond to our environment? We get together.

And what do we do when we meet during the holiday season? We share stories, we laugh, we play games and we drink. Sometimes there will be arguments and maybe an aunt will have a little too much wine, but that never dissuades us from scraping our car windows, applying winter tires and making the effort to meet up with friends and family. We know it’s important.

My impression of Winter Carnival before this year was inaccurately reductive. I’ve never participated and I formed my opinion from a couple of negative experiences. I concluded it’s just a week where people get wasted everyday.

Yet, when I thought about it, that didn’t make much sense. If your goal is to drink every night of the week, why join an event that requires you to be active everyday?

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have to choreograph a dance or whip dodge balls at people when I’m hungover.

I spoke to Kaipa Bharucha, vice-president of programming and services with the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union and Kelsey Matheson, the Winter Carnival coordinator, in order to understand the ethos of the week long event.

Bharucha reflected on Winter Carnival in 2011, participating as a first-year student. “I’ll always remember the lip sync event … there were a bunch of us that didn’t know each other and we all ended up working together to come up with our video. Those people I met are still in my life as roommates and really good friends.”

“When I first joined I was actually surprised. There was just a really strong vibe, it was overwhelmingly positive and welcoming,” Matheson said to me.

For many, Orientation Week will be the first and last time students participate in a school organized social event. The inherent uncomfortability that comes with being in a new situation, paired with forced interactions, creates negative associations between students and school events. Consequentally, many people feel they need to step off of campus in order to have fun. Winter Carnival provides the natural warmth needed in order to properly break the ice. That’s why Matheson and Bharucha stressed the importance of recruiting.

“We want to get people to understand what Winter Carnival really is. We want to show people that welcoming environment as well as seeing the school in a new light. It ties people in and makes them excited to come back.”

That exact thing happened with Panacea — the team that won this year’s Winter Carnival. Talking to Sean Fox, the team captain, he was honest in saying, “I didn’t think we were going to win this year. I knew the tendencies of people on my team and I thought we had no chance.”

“But then people started showing up to the events and there was a little buzz when people started thinking, ‘Hey, we can really win this thing!’”

You can dock that to the infectious energy created when a group of individuals commit to a team. That’s why students want to join and that’s why members want to become volunteers, captains and coordinators. As the name might suggest, Winter Carnival isn’t about rigid guidelines and business network opportunities. Bharucha used the term “experiential learning” to describe how students can benefit.

The negative public perception towards Winter Carnival is the result of anxiety toward the power of peer pressure. Hazing being one of them.

Fox made sure to let his team know if they felt uncomfortable doing something that they don’t have to do it. Bharucha and Matheson made sure to talk to all participants about the harmful effects of hazing.

When discussing accusations of Winter Carnival being an academic distraction Bharucha noted the lack of credit to the majority of students that do manage to successfully balance the events with other obligations.

To me, Winter Carnival seems like a wonderful symbol of what we can learn from the university experience and Canadian winter.

I thought one of the most valuable lessons imparted from one’s undergrad years is embracing and affirming your individuality within this large and dynamic social setting. Isn’t a big takeaway from school learning the importance of time management?

Instead of keeping company with a blanket and a Netflix account, Winter Carnival gets students out of the house and gets them together. First held in 1960, the event has become a tradition at Wilfrid Laurier University. A tradition that’s defined by overcoming the cold.

It’s a cold world out there and we stick together to stay warm. That’s cheesy, but also really nice. Let’s not lose sight of these moments over a couple of beers.

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