The idea started years ago when the people from this part of China made the first ice lanterns. They used simple buckets, filling them with water and putting them outside to freeze, and after the bucket-shaped ice was pulled out, they would make a hole on the top, where a candle was placed. Then, the ice lanterns were placed outside the house or used by fisherman as jacklights during the winter months.
Based on this invention, a small festival started in 1963, when it was still just a traditional ice lantern show and garden party, attracting local sculptors and ice fans. After a short break caused by the Cultural Revolution, the festival merged with Heilongjiang‘s International Ski Festival as it started to form the outline of what is it now the world’s largest festival of this kind, with 10 to 15 million visitors per year.
The festival is not only beating its rivals in Canada, Japan, or Norway with the number of fans, but also with its size. It covers an area of 600,000 square meters; and the tallest ice sculptures reach about 46 meters, while a sculpture from 2007 was awarded a Guinness Record for the world’s largest snow sculpture, consisting of 13,000 cubic meters of snow.
Together with stunning sculptures, one more factor makes this festival special – computer-controlled LED and regular lighting animations which paint the ice city and make it sparkle in different colors.
Besides the international snow sculpture art expo and ice lantern art fair, tourist agencies offer unique experiences such as winter swimming, sleigh rides, tubing, skiing, ice hotels, dog sledding, and a “Harbin safari” with Siberian tigers and many other attractions.
This year’s Festival started on January 5th, and it will last until February 25th with the theme “Bright Pearl in a Crown of Ice and Snow”. Among other happenings it will showcase National and International Snow Sculpture Competitions, a Group Wedding Ceremony on the Ice, Concerts, a China and Russia Snow Sculpture Duel, an International Ice Hockey Competition, and many other cultural and sporting events.