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5 Winter Festivals You Need to Attend
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December 1, 2019
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Travel Trivia Editorial
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Through the ages, people across diverse cultures have found clever and inventive ways to keep their spirits bright through the cold, dark months of winter. Now, there's a dizzying array of festivals around the world to celebrate the season. From fire ceremonies to dance parties to icy galas and everything in between, there's something for everyone to enjoy this time of year.

The Bavarian Icefest

Leavenworth, Washington street decorated with lights in winter
Credit: Joecho-16/ iStock 

The quaint Pacific Northwest mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, is full of old-world charm. It may be tiny, but this little village truly knows how to light up the wintertime with their annual Bavarian Icefest. During the day, activities are plentiful and include wintry games, snowshoe demos, and ice fishing. The festival aims to celebrate winter's bounty along with the joy of community bonding.

After sunset, over half a million glimmering lights illuminate the storybook buildings of this colorful Bavarian-style village. Fun, awe-inspiring entertainment such as live ice carving and carolers entertain the masses. The evening of the second day culminates with a grand fireworks display that helps the frozen sculptures to scintillate with brightly colored light. Crowds spill into the streets in a convivial atmosphere with plenty of adult beverages available, and the merriment is contagious.

The Bavarian Icefest event is held every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and garners much attention from near and far. The 2020 festival dates will be January 18 and 19.

Tomorrowland Winter

Tomorrowland at night surrounded by a huge crowd
Credit: EloyBr/ CC BY-SA 4.0

For those inclined to experience an unforgettable and very contemporary party at an altitude of 2,000 meters, check out Tomorrowland Winter. This immersive, sensory-stimulating week-long jubilation stars exceptional mountain settings and the world's best DJs. The Tomorrowland Winter event is nestled in the snowy French peaks of Alpe d'Huez. It offers pristine slopes for solo and group snow sports, along with decadent feasts. Light shows, incredible dancing, fireworks, and headlining acts align with the party's enthusiastic festival-goers, who are often bedecked in lavish costumes. Visiting also gives you easy access to some of the easiest hikes in the Alps.

When you're taking a break from traversing the beautiful peaks, expect to commune on the dance floor with 25,000 merrymaking revelers at Tomorrowland Winter 2020.

Up Helly Aa

Bonfire and Viking galley at Up Helly Aa Festival
Credit: Zdenka Mlynarikova/Shutterstock

You can easily warm your chilly bones at this fiery festival in Lerwick, Scotland, a locale that doubles as the central port of the Shetland Islands. Forged as an homage to the proud Viking heritage, Up Helly Aa is celebrated each year on the last Tuesday in January. Attendees are invited to bear witness to alighted marches, glowing visitations, and a brilliant torchlit procession that crescendos in the burning of a galley, or a traditional Viking longship. As one of the largest fire festivals in all of Europe, you can also enjoy traditional music as part of the festivities.

Don't pass the opportunity to see the elaborately costumed guizers, masqueraders whose numbers hover around one thousand. They appear through the village streets like a burning river against the dark of winter's night. You can plan to be in the neighborhood on Tuesday, January 28, 2020, for the next installment. But be warned: visitors are welcome as spectators, but don't expect to join the procession until you've been a Shetland resident for at least five years.

Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival landscape at night
Credit: christophe_cerisier/ iStock

A magical scene sets the stage at this festival. Enjoy colorful and icy architectural wonders carved with power tools such as chainsaws, chisels, sanding tools, and more. The world's largest snow and ice festival, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival takes place in Heilongjiang Province in northern China. Picturesque castles, frozen towers, and ice gardens populate the event, providing the perfect backdrop for any photograph you can imagine.

The official Harbin Ice opening ceremony will take place on January 5 and feature an array of activities like a fireworks show, skiing, and fishing. In past years, organizers have offered early access to installations and activities, such as the spectacular Harbin Ice and Snow World. This frosty wonder is constructed with giant ice blocks sourced from the Songhua River nearby.

Ice artists from many different countries convene to showcase their wintry delights at this spectacular show. The festival has been going strong since 1985, and candlelit ice lanterns of local tradition first inspired it. The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival will be open through February 20, 2020.

Quebec Winter Carnival

People sliding down the snow in front of Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City
Credit: Vlad G/ Shutterstock

For the ultimate family-friendly wintertime extravaganza, pay a visit to Carnaval de Qu├ębec. This two-week festival, alive and strong after over one hundred years, will take place next starting on February 7, 2020. Events are held primarily outside Quebec's Parliament Building. The event is host to a number of wild activities, including amusement rides, a human bowling ball track, a dog sledding track, and sleigh rides. There's also a heart-racing ice canoe race. Meanwhile, parents can park their kiddos for part of the day at the play area or the petting zoo for a grown-up experience of the Carnival.

Evening parades showcase elaborate floats and various winter players, including the festival's Master of Ceremonies, a character who vaguely resembles Santa Claus and is known as Bonhomme. Bonhomme is a tall, red and white smiling character who wears a red cap. Bonhomme is a hit among people of all ages, and they seem to love catching him for a photo op. But you certainly don't have to say goodbye to Bonhomme after the party at the Quebec Winter Carnival is over. The festival organizers invite you to bring the festivities home with you all through the year by following Bonhomme on Instagram.