Dancing flames reflect in their eager eyes.
A giant funeral pyre for the icy shackles of snow and frost builds even greater.
Cheering townsfolk cry louder as the effigy is lowered onto the pyre, bursting into bright flames.
Heat grows and faces redden.
Then the ritual begins as pieces of paper covered with words of angst, worries and concerns are thrown into the flames.
People cleanse their souls of cold sadness.
The festival, Burning Away the Winter Blues, gears up for another year of the pagan tradition on Saturday, March 20.
The age-old ritual of burning away your problems returns for its 12th year in Whitehorse, something creator Arlin McFarlane is proud of: “It has a deeply rooted place in the community, and I hope it continues in the years to come.”
McFarlane has overseen the festival for the span of 12 years and, each year, appreciates the community response. “People come to me and ask me about the next Burning celebration. They made me realize the festival has to continue,” she says.
This year’s festival, hosted by McFarlane and Yukon Educational Theatre, features an effigy created by local artists Stacey Svensrud and Catherine Millar.
McFarlane confides in me she has heard that the effigy will have two faces representing the two-sided nature of this year’s winter: good and bad, warm and cold.
This year, it almost feels needless to have a celebration to “shuck off the burden of winter,” as McFarlane refers to it, when Whitehorse has been unusually warm for the bulk of the season.
She laughs when this is brought up: “I know, I jokingly said, ‘Well why don’t we cancel it, we’ve been so lucky this year!'”
Regardless of the temperate climate, Burning Away the Winter Blues continues its proud tradition of zany, happy people celebrating the beginning of spring and the end of winter’s reign.
McFarlane encourages anyone attending to come dressed up in wacky costumes, masks, props, drums, flags and glitter and just “anything to help with the carnival-type celebration,” for the proud march to the Robert Service Campground, where the great fire will be.
As always, Burning Away the Winter Blues is a family-friendly event open to all citizens. To make it even more world-inclusive, it will be live webcasted on their website as the procession marches by torchlight along the riverfront.
There will be shuttle buses running on Saturday, March 20 from 8 to 8:45 p.m. from Robert Service Campground, where marchers can park their cars, ride the shuttle to the S.S. Klondike, and prepare for the procession back.
The festivities begin around 8:45 with a walk to Robert Service, ending with the ceremonial fire and burning of the effigy and pieces of paper with winter’s woes.
The entire event is anticipated to last until 11 p.m. or so in the evening. For more information or to view last year’s webcast, feel free to visit www.burningawaythewinterblues.com.