An annual event, the Festival is one of the world’s four largest ice and snow festivals. The celebration of all things cold holds the 2007 Guinness Record for largest snow sculpture: a two-part ice sculpture of Niagra Falls and the Crossing of the Bering Strait that totaled 250 meters long, 8.5 meters high, and composed of over 13,000 cubic meters of snow.
First organized in 1963, the Festival was often interrupted over the years due to the Cultural Revolution. It picked up again, this time as an annual event, in 1985. The official starting date is January 5th, lasting until February 15th, though weather permitting, the exhibitions often open a week earlier and run until March.
Each year has a different ‘theme,’ past themes including the Beijing Olympics, Chinese tourist sites, ‘Prosperous China and High-Flying Longjiang’, and ‘Friendship between China and Russia.’ The Great Wall (doubling as an ice slide), pyramids, sphinxes, terra cotta warriors, a Disney castle, towering pagodas, enormous Buddhas, and gardens are only a handful of the creative sculptures and carvings to have been a part of the Harbin Festival.
It is a competitive event, with teams coming from all over the world-the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, South Africa, France etc. During the nights of the month-long festival, lights from inside and outside of the sculptures brilliantly illuminate a variety of architectural styles, fanciful castles, mythological and historical figures, ice lanterns and slides.
Fireworks light up the sky on various evenings while the dazzling multicolored ice sculptures light up the entire ground. The ice is procured from the surface of the frozen Songhua River, then intricately carved, many of the sculptures receiving a douse of deionized water to produce an entirely transparent look. Swimming in the Songua River, Yabuli alpine skiing, an ice-lantern exhibition, ice golf, and ice archery are just some of the featured activities popular of the Festival.