The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival (Chinese: 哈尔滨国际冰雪节 ) is an annual winter festival that takes place with a theme in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, and now is the largest ice and snow festival in the world. At first participants in the festival were mainly Chinese, however it has since become an international festival and competition, with the 2017 festival attracting 18 million visitors and generating 28.7 billion yuan ($4.4 billion) of revenue. The festival includes the world's biggest ice sculptures.
Officially, the festival starts on January 5 and lasts one month. However, exhibits often open earlier and stay longer, weather permitting. While ice sculptures are erected throughout the city, there are two main exhibition areas:
- Sun Island is a recreational area on the opposite side of the Songhua River from the city, which features an expo of enormous snow sculptures.
- Ice and Snow World is an area open at night which features illuminated full-size buildings made from blocks of 2–3' thick ice taken directly from the Songhua River. At first China celebrated it then Harbin took over.
During the festival, there are ice lantern park touring activities held in many parks in the city. Winter activities during the festival include Yabuli alpine skiing, winter-swimming in the Songhua River, and the ice-lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden.
Harbin is in Northeast China and receives cold winter wind from Siberia. The average temperature in summer is 21.2 °C (70.2 °F), and –16.8 °C (1.8 °F) in winter. Annual lows of -35 °C (–31 °F) are not uncommon.
The festival originated in Harbin's traditional ice lantern show and garden party that takes place in winter, which began in 1963. It was interrupted for a number of years during the Cultural Revolution but has since been resumed when an annual event at Zhaolin Park was announced on January 5, 1985.
In 2001, the Harbin Ice Festival was merged with Heilongjiang's International Ski Festival and got its new formal name, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.
In 2007, the festival featured a Canadian themed sculpture, in memoriam of Canadian doctor Norman Bethune. It was awarded a Guinness Record for the world's largest snow sculpture: 250 metres long, 28 feet (8.5 m) high, using over 13,000 cubic metres of snow. The composition consisted of two parts: the "Niagara Falls" and the "crossing the Bering Strait" (the latter depicting the migration of the First Nations).
In 2014, the festival celebrated its 30th anniversary with the theme "50-Year Ice Snow, Charming Harbin". Various fairs, competitions and expos were held from 20 December 2013 to February 2014.
In 2015, the 31st Harbin Ice Snow Festival opened on Jan. 5 and was themed "Ice Snow Harbin, Charming China Dreams around the world [" with opening ceremony, firework show, ice lanterns , birthday parties, snow sculpture competitions and expos, as well as winter swimming, winter fishing, group wedding ceremony, fashion shows, concerts, ice sport games lasting from 22 December 2014 to early March 2015.
ConstructionSwing saws are used to carve ice into blocks, taken from the frozen surface of the Songhua River. Chisels, ice picks and various types of saws are then used by ice sculptors to carve out large scaled ice sculptures, many of them intricately designed and worked on all day and night prior to the commencement of the festival. Deionised water can also be used, producing ice blocks as transparent as glass to make clear sculptures rather than translucent ones. Multicoloured lights are also used to give colour to ice, creating variations on sculptured spectacles when lit up especially at night. Some ice sculptures made in previous years include: buildings and monuments of different architectural types and styles, figures including animals’ people and mythical creatures, slippery dips or ice slides and lanterns. Apart from winter recreational activities available in Harbin, these exquisitely detailed, mass-produced ice sculptures are the main draw card in attracting tourists around the world to the festival.