Preserving the spirit of Carnival

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival was started in the 1890s by tuberculosis patients. It was a celebration of beating the odds, healing from illness and a celebration of life itself.

Every year, we as a community have an opportunity to set aside what divides us and carry on that spirit. For the most part, we’ve succeeded. But what happened at the Gala Parade this past Saturday represented a failure in our collective stewardship of this beloved tradition.

It’s been an understood rule for many years: No politics during Carnival. Why? Because politics are divisive. It’s not unlike the rules that many families have on Thanksgiving Day. There are times when we must put our personal feelings and beliefs aside for the greater good of all. What we get in return for this sacrifice is something that ultimately feeds our souls: Peace, happiness and a place where all feel welcome to the party.

At the Gala Parade, there were multiple groups with signs and floats that were divisive. The most talked-about by far was a truck wrapped with an American flag that transitions into a Confederate flag. There was also a group carrying signs that called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

This was not the right place to bring the Confederate flag — quite frankly, we feel that there is no right place, with the exception of museums and textbooks, where it may be shown alongside the proper historical context. If people would like to celebrate this flag in their homes and in private, that is their choice, but we’ve said it before: This flag is not an innocent Southern pride thing. It’s not true that it doesn’t send a message of racism. Much like the swastika, which despite its origins as a religious symbol has come to symbolize antisemitism and white supremacy, the Confederate flag, despite its origins, has been used by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups and has come to symbolize racism to many.

As we wrote back in 2015, when a Confederate flag was flown in Saranac Lake: “Hanging a Confederate flag on the outside of your house … is like playing with matches and gasoline. You’re either an arsonist, trying to burn things down, or a child — or a childishly ignorant adult — who’s fascinated by the power of the thing but doesn’t appreciate how dangerous it is. … If you play with fire in your living room, you risk burning down your home, but if you do it in the middle of town, you threaten your entire community.”

The Gala Parade was also not the place to make a statement about the Israel-Hamas war. Anyone who has been paying attention to this conflict knows that a pro-Palestine sign, even if it’s not intended in such a way as to be offensive to Jewish people or to be in support of Hamas, will very likely be interpreted as such. It’s also pretty ineffective advocacy and does little to directly provide humanitarian aid, if that was the intent. It was not a fundraiser to help those in need, as Tri-Lakes residents have continued to do for Ukrainians displaced by the Russia-Ukraine war.

One could argue that these issues are so important that it was worth putting aside the spirit of Winter Carnival to make a statement.

In reality, this was a roughly two hour span of time where we had the opportunity to bring together the community — the entire community –to celebrate life and symbolically celebrate healing through the promotion of weirdness, goofiness, randomness and general tomfoolery. There are roughly 8,782 other hours this year during which politics can be debated and social change can be affected. Why disrupt this community event to make statements that fail to add anything of substance to the broader conversation and only serve to make people feel uncomfortable or unsafe?

Here’s what needs to happen next:

First, forgiveness. We must forgive one another and be able to apologize to be able to move forward with respect and in good faith.

Next, we believe that the Winter Carnival Committee should make clear exactly what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable for next year’s Gala Parade. We didn’t think it would ever need to come to that, but if the committee ensures that parade participants have clear rules to follow, we might be able to avoid situations like this in the future.

No matter what, we cannot let the spirit of Winter Carnival be broken.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today