Many popular winter festivals take place across the country this time of the year.
Many popular winter festivals take place across the country this time of the year. Jim Mone/AP Photo

This glorious season is not just about freezing temperatures, burly blizzards and lots of snow. It's also about dramatic early sunsets and peace and quiet to spare — not to mention skiing, skating and snowshoeing. So why not celebrate the season? These great winter festivals will make you want to bundle up, hit the streets and raise a mug to Old Man Winter.

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1. Ullr Fest, Breckenridge, Colorado

Though not as well known as his movie-star stepfather, Thor, Ullr is a heavyweight deity: As the Norse god of snow, he has a vast and fervent following in the Rockies, where he's honored in January. After the requisite kickoff bonfire, there's a jam-packed schedule, including a dating game, the wacky Ullympics (events include frying-pan tossing and a retro ski-wear relay) and the wackier Ullr Fest Parade, featuring an impressive armada of Viking-themed floats and fest-goers braving the cold in nothing but horned helmets and skivvies.

2. St. Paul Winter Carnival, St. Paul, Minnesota

The inaugural St. Paul Winter Carnival was held in February 1886 to celebrate the city's growth and also to entice people to visit the town by rail during its coldest month. Modeled after the superlative Montreal Winter Carnival in Canada, the citywide event includes an impressive ice castle, the crowning of King Boreas and his royal court, ice carving, snow sculpting and a pedestrian parade. The event's founders would be happy to see how popular the carnival is now: It draws upward of 400,000 attendees to the city in late January/early February.