China // Dongbei //

Harbin’s Ice Festival

In compensation for the cruel winter weather, the annual Ice Festival (冰灯节, bīngdēngjié), centred on Zhaolin Park, is held from January 5 to February 5 – though with the influx of tourists, the dates extend each year. Sculptors, some of them teenagers, work twelve-hour days in ‑20°C December weather to help transform the park into a fairy-tale landscape: the magnificent ice sculptures they create are sometimes entire buildings, complete with slides, stairways, arches and bridges. Carved with chainsaws and picks, the creations often have coloured lights inside to heighten the psychedelic effect. Highlights of past festivals have included detailed replicas of St Paul’s Cathedral and life-size Chinese temples, though these days cartoon characters outnumber more traditional Chinese subject matter. Over on Sun Island, a snow sculpture display is held, the highlights of which are the toboggan and snow-tube pistes. It’s as much fun watching ecstatic Chinese bounce down the slopes as it is sledding. You can walk across the river yourself or even take a horse-drawn carriage. Festival’s end is marked with fireworks and pickaxes; visitors are encouraged to destroy the icy artwork by hand.