Minnesotans’ Yearly Emotional Thaw Begins in May

We can finally let the post-winter healing begin

An illustration of winter transitioning to spring, and a girl transitioning from shoveling to running.

illustration by Lars Leetaru

Next time friends and family from out of state say something catty about Minnesota winters, remind them that you survive, and thrive, in conditions that deflate stadiums. Whenever the roof of the Twins’ and Vikings’ old home, the Metrodome, would flatten—most recently in 2010—it was an ultimate “The struggle is real” moment of our cold-and-snowy season. Now that it’s May, the bounce back is underway.

We feel hopeful, and a little tough. Like Vikings returning from battle, we’re finally ready to throw off our Sorels and celebrate vanquishing black ice, cabin fever, and frozen nose hair yet again. (Unless there’s one more late-spring snow on the way.)

It’s time to seize the spring, whatever it brings. Take off your shoes and stroll barefoot down the thawing sidewalks. Strike up an actual conversation with the neighbors you haven’t seen since Halloween, other than those few times you were out shoveling the driveway and your gruff greetings were ominously muffled by acrylic face masks. Time to change your profile picture so it doesn’t feature you wearing anything resembling a winter blanket.

On second thought, when you thought you heard your neighbor say, “Man, it’s cold out here,” had he actually said, “Stop by for a beer?” You wonder why you didn’t invite them over for dinner during the doldrums of January, and you swear that this summer you will.

At the legendary MayDay Festival in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park­—among the state’s most eclectic and irreverent events, which one of my grandmothers would call “different,” although that’s part of its charm—you might get sunburn one year, and need mittens the next. And that’s the beauty of May in Minnesota: We know we’re living on borrowed time. The fickle skies could dump snow on us any moment.

In fact, it was basically winter until about two weeks ago. Our now-departed musical poet Prince even wrote a song about it, “Sometimes It Snows in April.” He wasn’t kidding. In April of 2008, parts of northern Minnesota recorded a whopping two feet of snow over one weekend. And in 1983, the Twin Cities’ mid-April snowstorm did indeed deflate the Metrodome.

As kids growing up during the Reagan administration in Minneapolis, my classmates and I fashioned May Day baskets out of colored paper and filled them with candy and flowers to leave on the neighbors’ doorsteps. Nobody texted first. We just rang the doorbells—remember those?—and dashed away, leaving our anonymous gifts behind.

Maybe this year I’ll revive that tradition with the kids in my family. Don’t people always appreciate something that? Like May in Minnesota, it’s unexpected and spontaneous—a small reminder of spring you can hold in your hand.

In that same song, Prince sang, “Sometimes I wish that life was never-ending. But all good things, they say, never last.” So, with our newfound warm weather, there’s no time to waste.

In many other states, the first of May is simply a date on the calendar, and the continuation of a spring that has reliably sprung. Here in Minnesota, it’s a day of reckoning and profound relief: We’ve made it through another winter. 

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