When life gives you so much winter, why not make a fest?

Cooks start stirring in Hanover Square for the 2014 Syracuse Winterfest edition of the Chili Cook-Off.

Cooks start stirring in Hanover Square for the 2014 Syracuse Winterfest edition of the Chili Cook-Off.

It’s become a tradition for my dear wife Karen and I to make sure we head to the Syracuse, N.Y., downtown space called Hanover Square at this time of year.

Since 1985, hardy and hearty Central New Yorkers have been given the opportunity to make the most of this cold, snowy season here in the Northeast by attending Winterfest.

There are all sorts of events.

Karen and I like to pick the day of the Chili Cook-Off, where restaurants stir the cauldrons of heat, meat, and beans with their individual flavor, sometimes mysterious and sometimes not.

Hundreds of people walk from canopy to canopy to sample them all, and get to pick their favorite chili. That establishment gets the people’s award, which is served up alongside a judges award.

It’s fun.

Last year, though, we were convinced by a group of friends to take part in the Wing Walk instead.

Three happy Martins: Jason, Scott and MIchelle.

Three happy Martins: Jason, Scott and MIchelle.

That’s one of an increasing amount of Winterfest events where you buy tickets in advance, and traverse the blocks around the square to actually enter the participating bars and restaurants to sample their food or drinks.

That was a blast, too.

Our friends who organized that Wing Walk Frenzy of 2013 — I’ll call siblings Michelle and Scott Martin the kingpins — liked the way all the friends who participated ended up back around Scott’s pickup truck in a nearby parking lot to drinks some more and eat some more and talk a whole lot more.

Martinfest was born.

This year, they made shirts to commemorate the event and gave them to friends and family.

Karen and I proudly wore ours last Saturday. We parked in the same lot as Scott’s truck, along with at least a half-dozen more vehicles attacked to Martinfest.

We ate from a portable table stuffed with tasty stuff brought pot-luck style.

Take a shot of Karen's mixed-drink delights to prove you're a Martin at heart.

Take a shot of Karen’s mixed-drink delights to prove you’re a Martin at heart.

Karen came up with an ingenious plan for our contribution. With an assortment of bottles and mixers, she concocted four racks of test tubes filled with deliciousness, fruity and otherwise. She called it her Martin DNA test, and there were a pile of wood swabs ready to rub inside your cheek to prove how much Martin spirit you really have before you downed or sipped the shot of your choice. All in fun.

I sipped some Bud Light Lime instead, and worked my way to and from the parking lot for Martinfest and Hanover Square for Winterfest.

I like them both. A lot.

If you’d like to my community blog about the big day on waer.org, the site for Syracuse Public Media, click on the link below.


There’s a good photo that captures the spirit of the Chili Cook-Off there, I promise.

Yes, Martinfest included games along with the food and fun.

Yes, Martinfest included games along with the food and fun.

The Martins — sibling Kevin and his lovely wife pulled in to increase the level of real Martins at the event, too — made sure to bring along their bean bag toss game for the tailgate athletes in the crowd, too.

Bridging the end of February with the upcoming March Madness, they drew up an NCAA Tournament-like bracket.

That may have been a tad optimistic about the level of participation, but those who played had fun.

I’m told the Martins returned Sunday for the Wing Walk.

Now that’s endurance.

Does your community organize an event to embrace winter? Do you think you’d enjoy Winterfest and Martinfest?

37 thoughts on “When life gives you so much winter, why not make a fest?

  1. If anyone scheduled a winter fest around here the weather would do one of two things. Temp rise to the 70’s would be ideal, or 6 inches of ice on the ground which would result in immediate cancellation. We do, however, have an International Barbecue Fest in May, guaranteed to bring rain. It started out in April, one of our rainier months, then was moved to May which guaranteed that every Mother’s Day weekend we have rain. But the fest goes on, since people from around the world get their hotel reservations a year in advance, to be sure they have housing close to the festival grounds on the riverfront. Pit barbecue, 500 gallon pots of burgoo, and street vendors selling any other food you can dream of. I’ve only gone once and that was one time too many. The line goes on for blocks, so if you are unwilling to camp out in line the food is gone by the time the mostly sane people get to the front of the line.


  2. Mark I love the joy you find in life and in your dear wife.

    Wait, did I rhyme AGAIN???? I swear, it only happens here. But truly. I love this kind of thing. And no, we don’t have ‘fest’. Ah well. We do have a bike trail!


  3. oh, i love hearing about these community fests, these sound great, and karen’s idea was ingenious. glad you could embrace a bit of the winter and enjoy it, at least of awhile. ) and hang on, it may not be over yet! in downtown detroit, they have a winter blast each year in a park, with skating and hot cocoa and games and good cheer of all kinds. i think these things help us deal with the challenges of the season )


    • It was in the 40s, which made the hours outdoors possible, Beth. Some years the chili cook-off has been so cold that the chili was part hand-warmer, too. I’m glad to hear the Detroit gets into the winter spirit. But now that the fest is over, bye-bye winter, please.


  4. Our Winterfest is held on New Year’s Eve in Columbus, Ohio. But every First Friday, come rain or shine, come winter snow… we keep our shops in Delaware, Ohio open until 8 or 9 p.m. In December, they light the three story Christmas tree and have free horse drawn carriage rides. We had sidewalks with lit candles in bags like Mexico’s “lumineres” or something like that. I like the February First Friday because every shop has a form of free chocolate to offer, including chocolate wine tastes at the wine shops! Your Fest looks delightful and I need a few of the ‘shots’ to relax from work, Can you deliver? Smiles, Robin


  5. I’d enjoy anything with a ‘fest’ in its name! Sounds like a great way to pass some winter time. UGH. You know down south, bean bag toss is called corn hole. Isn’t that funny? I never knew what the heck anyone was talking about until I saw the game because we always called it bean bag toss. Stay warm! Warmfest!


    • I know what that other name for the toss is, but I couldn’t quite get my fingers to type it into my story, slang definition and all … Yes, I think so much of the country needs to have a Warmfest, right now CBXB!


  6. The DNA test is genius. I would want a Martin Martini. We went to a chili cook-off last weekend, when it was in the 70s. Yours looks COLD, but all the better for chili, I suppose. One sample we tried had bison meat, but it was too gamey. I thought I would enjoy it more. One was so spicy, we couldn’t taste anything afterward. Did you eat any? Since I never see snow, I didn’t realize it could get so DIRTY. Snow is supposed to be pretty and white. 🙂


  7. I’d mention the Chili cook-off coming up this weekend, but I’m afraid if I call it “winter” you might strike me down! I am looking forward to being able to get to the island for it though. Hubby and I went last year, and it was such a good time!


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