Rituals of the World – Harbin Ice Festival
Ice, Ice, Baby!
The Chinese city of Harbin celebrates its Ice Festival for an entire winter month. And if it stays cold, for even longer.
It never gets really warm in Manchuria. Although in summer the average temperature in the city of Harbin is around 20 degrees Celsius, in winter it is a teeth-chattering minus 17 degrees. And it can get much colder still with temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees when an icy north wind blows from Siberia. The residents of the city, which lies in the northeast of the country, have chosen the frostiest month of January to celebrate a big festival. Outside, of course.
Fascination ice – at minus 40 degrees Celsius
Big saws are used to cut the ice from the frozen Songhua River into thick blocks. Well over 10,000 workers chisel, hammer, and carve huge sculptures from them, which are exhibited throughout the city. Or they pile up the building blocks to create enormous, walk-in buildings. Several dozen meters high, they recreate famous sights from all over the world. Ice art and architecture adorn the city during the alpine skiing competitions that take place at the same time. At night they become the impressive backdrop for traditional parades with ice lanterns. The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival developed from this custom.
A colorful city made of ice
Shining in exquisite, muted white during the day, the city becomes a riot of color at night when brightly colored LEDs illuminate the towers and temples, bridges and cathedrals made of ice. This is beyond opulent, and much of it is really kitschy. But at the same time the translucent shimmer creates a unique, hypnotic experience.
Those who have seen the extravaganza will understand why Harbin is one of the very few cities whose inhabitants want a severe and long winter: to preserve the shining world of ice for as long as possible. And sometimes it doesn’t melt until March. Using the extreme cold weather for an art event, taking pleasure in the biting frost and enjoying a walk on the longest nights: this is an inspiring ritual because it does not stem from necessities or practical constraints. But does something to counter them.
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