With temperatures in the minus and snowflakes in the air, winter is nigh upon us. While many are already grumbling about the cold, we feel this time could be better spent looking forward to all of the great things winter has to offer. Skating, skiing, roaring fires, but most universal of all: festivals. Combining all of the best elements of the season: read on for the five best winter festivals in the world!
Up Helly Aa
Shetland Islands, Scotland
The famous Shetland Islands festival of fire takes place every year in Lerwick at mid-winter to mark the end of Yuletide. The modern-day parade of torchbearers arose in the late 19th century after public safety concerns brought to an end the previous practice of tar-barreling and wanton drunkenness; because what could ever have gone wrong with teams of drunken men dragging burning barrels of tar through the town streets?
The Up Helly Aa celebrations are admittedly less hazardous today. Though standing out in the cold and wet Shetland climate, you’ll certainly be glad for the thousand torch-bearing guizers and burning ship. The spectacle is not to be missed!
Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival
Having surpassed Quebec’s Carnaval back in 2006, the Harbin Ice Festival has since held onto the title of largest winter festival in the world; over 18 million people from around the world visited the Harbin festival in 2017. With the world’s biggest ice sculptures, winter swimming, alpine skiing, and ice lantern exhibitions, by night or day, the Harbin Ice Festival has something for every winter lover.
New Orleans, Louisiana
While there are Mardi Gras celebrations around the world, one place in particular has taken this holiday and made it its own: New Orleans. The first record of Mardi Gras in Louisiana goes all the way back to 1699; although the first official such celebration in New Orleans itself wasn’t until 1833. Today, the population of the city doubles in the five days running up to Mardi Gras Day.
It’s no wonder as to why. With its famous parades, parties and masquerade balls, there are few better ways to celebrate the end of winter (and the beginning of Lent), than Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
It harkens back to a more primal time, when getting around in the high north during winter could only be done by dog sled. The Yukon Quest is a 1,000 mile sled dog race following the same route as the Klondike Gold Rush and mail delivery routes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Beginning in Fairbanks, Alaska and ending in Whitehorse, Yukon, the race takes place every February and is considered the most difficult sled dog race in the world.
While not as civilian-focussed as the rest of the festivals on this list, the Yukon Quest celebrates winter at its most elemental. Watch the race and experience the great white north for yourself; your relationship with winter will never be the same.
Carnaval de Quebec
Quebec City, Canada
Until 2006 the largest winter festival in the world, the Carnaval de Quebec got its start back in 1894 as a pre-Lenten festival. Today it continues to entertain hundreds of thousands of participants every year with parades, public banquets, snow sculptures, outdoor sporting events and masquerade balls. Why not join the iconic Bonhomme Carnaval in this Canadian Quebecois classic for a winter celebration closer to home this February?
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