Burn the Grump: A journey to Vinotok in Crested Butte | AspenTimes.com

Burn the Grump: A journey to Vinotok in Crested Butte

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen

It’s about this time of year when Aspen locals get the itch to get out of town. Whether it be Denver, Dallas or Des Moines, the destination is irrelevant. Escaping the Aspen bubble for a day or two during offseason is a must. On a whim, some friends and I decided to make the trek to Crested Butte for the weekend to attend the annual Vinotok Festival.

With little knowledge of what this event actually entails, no one really knew quite what to expect. After a stunning, three-hour drive crossing Kebler Pass, we arrived in the notably quaint, yet hip, mountain town. The leaves were just starting to change, and it was the first weekend where it actually felt like fall.

Founded by a band of Crested Butte natives in 1985, Vinotok is a celebration of the transition from summer to fall. The word Vinotok means “all that dies shall be reborn.” Essentially, this pagan holiday is a community affair designed to celebrate the summer harvest and the autumn equinox. With live music, storytelling and dancing ceremonies interspersed throughout the week, the festival culminates with the Trial of the Grump on a Saturday.

Luckily, a few of our friends were Crested Butte locals so they advised us on how to prepare. To start, a crown of leaves or fresh flowers was pretty much considered mandatory and the making of the crown was just as essential as the wearing of the crown. This process involved wandering into the woods to gather leaves and twigs to construct a makeshift crown that was to be worn for the duration of the holiday.

The episode that unveiled as the evening progressed was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Picture a boisterous street jubilee and one giant costume party. The masses of people who showed up to celebrate the change of seasons was remarkable. Shoulder to shoulder, we slowly moved down the street in a ceremony-like fashion and I quickly lost my friends among the crowd.

Locals dressed as medieval characters — their heads ringed with leaf wreaths and decorative elk-horn headwear. Intricate face-paint designs masked the faces of attendees — many of whom were holding torches and signs that said things like, “Out with the Old, In with the New,” and “Insecurities for Sale.” It felt as if we were participating in a protest or a walk-out.

From an outside perspective, the display of people carrying torches and wearing masks as they marched down the street resembled something from a horror movie, and I was slightly taken aback. In reality, Vinotok honors traditional Eastern European roots and it’s not intended to be a frightening experience.

The parade down Main Street culminated with a massive bonfire where people were invited to “burn the grump,” a ritual where revelers write down their problems or things they wished to get rid of and throw them in the fire. “Thank you for trusting me with your grump,” a lady said to me as I handed her my crinkled-up piece of paper that she promised to throw in the fire. “It’s a rebirth, a new coming, a new season!” she shouted.

All week long, boxes were sporadically placed around town for people to write down their grumps. At the end of the week, the town burns them in the colossal bonfire that closes out the weeklong festival. “Get off your phones,” enthusiastic patrons would scream out as the newbies would attempt to take videos.

Despite the hippie culture of the grassroots celebration, there really is something refreshing about the changing of the seasons. Although it’s hard to see summer leave, it is inevitable and just like all things in life, change is inevitable. This is the opportune time to move toward new goals, eliminate old habits and make big life changes. So, without further ado, I wanted to inform my readers that I will be moving back home to Iowa.

Ha! NEVER. But in all seriousness, my best friend is moving from Aspen to Iowa this week and I can’t imagine life in this town without her. So, squeeze the ones you love a little extra today because unavoidably, seasons and circumstances will always change, and no one really knows what the next season will bring.

Aspen will miss you, Taylor!