For some, the end of the holidays means a time to relax and enjoy the view of a winter wonderland outside their windows. For others around the world, this is a time to celebrate and embrace the cold, or warm, weather with skiing, entertainment, and century old traditions. Whether you are trying to partake in the winter season or head to a much warmer location, there are many festivals around the world for every traveler’s preference.
Harbin Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival, Harbin, China
January 5th – February 2016
The 32nd International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is Harbin’s main tourist highlight. Started 17 years ago, this event has become the world’s biggest winter festival. Visitors can enjoy beautiful ice sculptures and snow art in the Sun Island Scenic Area, Ice and Snow World, Zhaolin Park and Central Street. The festival starts and ends with a bang! A huge fireworks display on January 5th opens the event and the visitors get a chance to smash the sculptures with ice picks when the festival closes down in February. The scale and size of the sculptures and the beautiful lighting is what sets this festival apart from all the others. Visitors can also enjoy and participate in many of the events at the festival such as: The New Year Concert, Ice Lantern Garden Party or National Cross-country Skiing Championship!
If you’ve had your fill of ice sculptures, check out crazy swimmers as they take a dip in the frozen Songhua River, or visit the Siberian Tiger Park. You can also take time to stroll down Central Avenue. This one-mile corridor, lined with 77 ornately designed buildings, half of which are historic landmarks.
World Buskers Festival, Christchurch, New Zealand
January 14th – 24th, 2016
For over 23 years now the SCIRT (The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team) World Buskers Festival has been a highlight of the summer months and the events calendar in Christchurch. Held during New Zealand’s summer, December through February, the World Buskers Festival will host over 60 performers of all types. Ranging from street performers, to comedians, to fringe artists, and musicians, these performance acts are a little bit off the wall. With so many performers, there is definitely something for everyone. “Songs to Make You Smile,” is an old-fashioned cabaret act of tunes from old-school songwriters (Cole Porter, Irving Berlin) to appeal to a slightly older demographic. Tip Top Buskers Kid Pitch is perfect for kids which is held next to a playground near the Botanic Gardens and includes acts including hula hoopers, jugglers, and comedic acrobats. This is definitely not your average festival.
Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah, United States
January 21st – 31st, 2016
North America’s most famous film festival is a compelling combination of show, snow, and showbiz, equally popular with intellectuals and the pop-culture paparazzi. This 10-day festival is really two festivals. The first weekend is glamorous filled with industry parties, sponsor-led celebrity events, and world premieres. The second weekend is when you can try to catch whatever film has received a lot of buzz. Sundance specializes in documentaries and with more than 100 films being screened, there’s a wide array of choices to please everyone’s tastes. Visitors new to Sundance are sometimes surprised by the lack of glamour of where the films are shown. You might be in a gymnasium, a high school auditorium, or a tiny sliver of a theater that had better days half a century ago.
Park City is a quaint little town with great restaurants, shops, and lots of live music venues. Some of the most fun you’ll have is grabbing a drink with strangers to debate about films you just saw on the big screen. If you love to ski or snowboard, there are three great resorts, Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley, and Canyons Resort, within close proximity. The Sundance Film Festival is deservedly one of the most celebrated film festivals in the world and its location makes it perfect for a long weekend visit in the winter.
Wakakusa Yamayaki, Nara, Japan
January 22nd, 2016
Wakakusa Yamayaki is a grass-burning ceremony held on Mount Wakakusa located east of Nara Park, Nara City, Japan. This fiery event begins at the sound of a blaring trumpet, when eighty-one acres of moorland at Wakakusayama bursts into flames. A religious procession heads from the Silk Road Exchange Hall in Nara Park to the base of the mountain with monks and priests from Tōdai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, and Kasuga dress in traditional costume carrying lit lanterns and torches.The sacred fire at Kasuga Taisha Shrine is carried down to a small shrine at the foot of the hill by a procession of Buddhist monks. The hill is ignited with the sacred fire and burns fiercely amid fireworks lighting up the chilly night skies above. Some say this tradition dates back to a 1,000 year old boundary dispute between two of Nara’s temples, Kofuku-ji Temple and Todai-ji Temple. Others say the mountain was burned to drive away wild boars or to exterminate harmful insects, even drive out goblins! Whatever the reason, this is one event that you will want to be part of.
Quebec Winter Carnival, Quebec City, Canada
January 28th – February 14th, 2016
If you’re a winter person, than the Quebec Winter Carnival is the festival where you can revel in the frigid surroundings to celebrate the joie de vivre of the Carnival season. There are so many events at the Québec Winter Carnival that you’re bound to miss something. There are a few parts of the carnival you must see. The Ice Palace located in the center of the festival is built with bricks of compacted snow, and lit with colored light displays to make the palace look like an iced dessert. The Palace is surrounded by snow and ice sculptures carved from blocks of snow by artists from around the world. The Canoe Race features over 50 teams from Quebec, Canada, France and the United States who navigate the frozen waters of the Saint-Lawrence River between Quebec City and Lévis. Make sure you dress warm to watch both the preliminaries and the finals. The Night Parades in Upper Town and Charlesbourg, which takes place on the second and third weekend of the carnival, are what some would argue as the best part of the whole carnival. Viewers get to the snow-covered streets to admire a parade of colorful decorated floats and zany characters dancing to lively music.