It may be the season for Christmas festivities, but winter as a whole is full of absolutely incredible festivals all around the world. Whether they're traditional and ancient celebrations, passed down from generation to generation, or newer extravagant events that dazzle international visitors, winter can certainly be a spectacular and snowbound time. Here are four of our favourites (and we've included the dates for you in case you want to hop on a plane, train, or automobile to get there).
Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan - 31st January - 11th February 2019
Starting at the latter end of the winter season in Japan, the Sapporo snow festival offers breathtakingly beautiful sculptures made entirely out of ice and snow, myriads of glittering lights, and hundreds of thousands of visitors all piling in to enjoy the spectacular atmosphere. Of course, the event is spread out over three large sites, Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome, so it doesn't feel claustrophobic! Possibly my favourite thing about the snow festival is how it came about. In 1950, six bored high school students decided to start a small snow statue competition. Five years later, the Japan Self-Defense Forces decided to join in for a lark and showed up the students by building enormous statues. Since then, not only is participation by the JSDF considered a training exercise from them, but international teams fly over to build these magnificent shows of snow, creating a fantastic atmosphere, and a fun time for all.
Cologne Festival, Germany - 11th November, 28th February - 6th March 2019
Traditionally, the Cologne Festival kicks off on the 11th of November, at 11:11, stops for advent, then kicks off again after Epiphany (6th January), then opens again between Fat Thursday and Ash Wednesday. This time of the festival is called the 'Crazy Days', and if it's anything as mad as the scheduling of the thing, we can see why. The three people in charge of the whole thing are also a bit confusing. Firstly, Jungfrau, or 'the maiden'. Usually portrayed by a man in drag, 'she' represents the unity of Cologne and wears clothes that mirrors the dress of Roman empress Agrippina. Secondly we have Prinz, 'the prince', also known as Seine Tollität, or 'his madness'. He is the most important part of the carnival, and he is the jester of the whole thing. Finally, Bauer, 'the peasant', also known as Seine Deftigkeit, or 'his heftyness', who symbolises the history of Cologne.
Up Helly Aa, Scotland - 29th January 2019
No, you've not stumbled into The Wicker Man (the 1973 classic not the Nicholas Cage… thing), you've come across Up Helly Aa, one of the most badass looking festivals on the British Isles. Celebrated annually in the Shetland Islands, this particular tradition originated in the 1880s, and has only been cancelled 3 times in its nearly 140-year-old history. When the original end-of-Yule tradition of tar barrelling was banned, presumably because it was a health and safety nightmare, the island drew inspiration from its proud Viking past. The Guizer Jarl is the main character, taking their names from Norse legends and backed up by the epic sounding 'Jarl Squad'. Possibly the coolest thing about Up Helly Aa is the replica of a Viking longship, which is then set on fire at the end of the night by hundreds of people throwing torches, which, honestly, sounds more dangerous than the tar barrel thing but it looks super cool.
Chinese New Year, China - beginning on the 5th February, 2019
This is one of the oldest traditions in China, one of the most renowned Luna New Years in Asia, and one of the most celebrated events in the world, Chinese New Year is without a doubt an incredible winter festival. This is celebrated according to a lunar calendar, and although it is celebrated more as a spring festival in China, I feel that February is still in the bleak midwinter. This is treated as a day for families to reunite as well as completely clean their houses from top to bottom to 'sweep away bad fortune' and make way for new, better fortune. The colour red is very strongly associated with Chinese New Year, as red is a lucky colour in Chinese tradition. Decorations, like lanterns and paper chains, will be made with red paper, and often money will be exchanged in red paper envelopes. On the final day of Chinese New Year, there is an enormous Lantern Festival, known as Chap Goh Mei, where families light lanterns and walk around with them. This day is also treated as a sort of Valentine's Day for single folk. Women will write their numbers on mandarins and throw them into a river, and men will fish them out and eat them. Depending on the taste (if the oranges are sour, that means a bad fate, but if they're sweet it's a good fate), the men will call the numbers on the peel.