12 Weird, Wild Winter Festivals Around the World
Let’s face it: Once the holidays are over, it’s hard not to start counting the (dark) days until spring arrives. But that doesn’t there’s nothing to look forward to during those long winter days. Around the world, communities large and small come together to put on seasonal celebrations that have fun with—and make light of—this time of year. From a spirited celebration that honors an unsightly fish to massive light displays and everything in between, here are 12 weird and wild winter festivals around the world.
1. Québec Winter Carnival
The storied Québec Winter Carnival traces its roots to 1894 and has since become one of the world’s wildest winter celebrations. The festival kicks off with the arrival of the festival’s snowman mascot, Bonhomme, and continues over 17 bone-chilling but fun-filled days. Every year, more than 400,000 visitors check out the carnival’s events, which include ice-cold snow baths, graffiti displays, a snow sculpture contest, night parades, canoe races, human-powered foosball, ice skating, axe throwing, ice sculpture workshops, curling, and much more. To stay warm, be sure to try one of the region's signature drinks, Caribou, a heady blend of red wine and booze that's served hot.
2. Frozen Dead Guy Days
In 1989, a Norwegian man named Bredo Morstoel died of a heart condition, and his family put his body into a cryonic state, freezing it until scientific breakthroughs could bring him back to life. His body was placed in a cryonics facility in Oakland, California, for four years before being moved into a shed near the mountain town of Nederland, Colorado—where his frozen body remains today.
In most places, that’s where the story ends. But Nederland isn’t most places. The community launched Frozen Dead Guy Days in 1995, and the celebration of Morstoel’s life continues every winter with one of the wilder seasonal events you’ll ever encounter. Each year, the three-day festival offers live music under heated tents, coffin racing, a costumed polar plunge, frozen T-shirt contests, parade of hearses, ice turkey bowling, poetry slam, frozen salmon toss, and more.
3. Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Winter Festival
The Fur Rendezvous winter festival, also known as "Fur Rondy" or simply "Rondy", started in 1935 in Anchorage and has since earned worldwide acclaim for its creative atmosphere and wacky approach to Alaska's long winter days.
Designed to showcase the pioneering spirit of the Last Frontier, Fur Rondy's long list of events includes a snow sculpture contest, fireworks, snowshoe softball, a costumed fun run, sled dog races, outhouse races (seriously), daily carnival, beard and mustache contest, and the Running of the Reindeer—a mellower take on Pamplona's Running of the Bulls.
4. Cordova Iceworm Festival
Named for a miniscule worm that thrives in glacial ecosystems, the Cordova Iceworm Festival launched in 1961 in the Alaska town by the same name and has since become a 10-day celebration of all things winter.
The event's centerpiece is the Iceworm Parade, starring a massive makeshift iceworm and designed to capture the creativity and seasonal resilience of local residents. Other attractions include a fireworks display, survival suit races, a paper airplane contest, a scavenger hunt, a variety show, and more.
5. Portland Winter Light Festival
With long nights and steady rainfall, wintertime in Portland can feel a bit bleak. The Portland Winter Light Festival launched in 2016 to counteract the season’s relentless darkness and has since become a welcome seasonal tradition that gets Portlanders outside—rain or shine.
The outdoor festival's after-dark displays incorporate light in its many forms and include a steel dragon sculpture (designed as an homage to Trogdor the Burninator, of "Homestar Runner" fame), an adult-sized Light Brite, Tron Pong (an illuminated Pong table with side panels), and a flamethrower chandelier (which is exactly what it sounds like). Other attractions include light science talks, fireside storytelling, live music, dance performances, an illuminated bike ride, lantern parade, silent disco, and more.
6. Saint Paul Winter Carnival
Saint Paul is one of the coldest cities in the United States, so it's no surprise the 17-day Saint Paul Winter Carnival celebrates the season with more than four dozen events and attractions, not to mention a literal battle against winter.
The festival launched in 1886—it is the oldest winter celebration in the United States—and has since become synonymous with the eternal war between Boreas, King of the Winds, and Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire. The two titanic figures "battle" for the end of winter and the beginning of spring each year; their annual struggle ends with a re-enactment of the Overthrow of Boreas, signaling the unofficial end of winter.
In addition to the lore, there’s plenty to love about the festival. Events include daytime and nighttime parades, ice and snow carving competitions, a 300-foot-long snow slide, polar plunges, an autonomous snowplow competition, a Cinco de Mayo celebration, barstool skiing (a brave balancing act involvign a barstool affixed to a set of skis), and more.
It's late February. You've endured months of darkness, snow, ice, rain, wind, and cold. You deserve to unwind and celebrate the dawn of spring—and what better way to let loose than to wear ominous wooden masks, don furry wool coats, and burn a coffin designed to symbolize winter?
That's the heart of the Busó festivities, which take place every February in the Hungarian city of Mohács. Roughly 500 "busós" (those are the masked men and women who wear the nightmare-inducing masks) arrive on rowboats for the Busójárás z z z festival each year before marching through the city and eventually burning a coffin in the town square to signal the end of winter. Other events throughout the six-day festival include a costume contest, art displays, dancing, and live music.
8. Whitefish Winter Carnival
As legend has it, the Norse god of snow, Ullr, was struck by Montana's Flathead Valley's beauty and eventually chose the community as the new home. The peace was short-lived, however, when a band of Yetis tried to kidnap his queen. But as humans settled in the valley, Ullr donned the clothing of the men and women settlers and sought their help to stop the yetis. Eventually, the citizens of Whitefish made Ullr their king.
Today, the Whitefish Winter Carnival is an annual affair where revelers join forces with Ullr to banish the Yetis back to the hills and celebrate wintertime. The fun includes a disco party, skijoring (where skiers are towed by horses), children's carnival, and celebratory parade.
9. Madison Winter Festival
With long winters and frigid temperatures, it's no surprise the Madison Winter Festival has emerged as a popular event to showcase Wisconsin's outdoor sports and recreation scene.
The festival takes place in early February and features something for everyone—including children's activities, workshops and clinics, a candlelit snowshoe and ski tour of Elver Park (followed by s'mores around a bonfire), 3K-5K snowshoe races, sledding, snow carving, and more.
10. Sapporo Snow Festival
Every year, two million visitors descend on Sapporo, Japan, for the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. The winter festival, now one of the largest in the world, had humble beginnings. Local high school students carved six snow statues in 1950—yet the event still drew 50,000 visitors and announced itself as a signature seasonal event on the island of Hokkaido.
In the nearly 70 years since that first festival, the Sapporo Snow Festival has transformed Hokkaido into a winter wonderland, with roughly 200 snow and ice sculptures on display at three sites throughout the festival. Many of the sculptures are illuminated at night, adding to the festive atmosphere. Other attractions include snow slides, children's activities, and ice sculpture contests.
11. International Eelpout Festival
Named for an ugly, eel-shaped, bottom-dwelling fish, the International Eelpout Festival marks one of Minnesota's quirkiest seasonal celebrations.
Every winter, more than 10,000 hardy souls descend on the Minnesota town of Walker, whose population is just 1,069, to celebrate the eelpout of Leech Lake, the state's third-largest lake. Events include an eelpout fish fry (naturally), a fishing competition, curling, beer pong, rugby, dog sled rides, a costumed polar plunge, and more.
12. Saranac Lake Winter Carnival
New York's Saranac Lake Winter Carnival started as a way to pierce winter's icy sheen and has since evolved into a 10-day festival that includes firework displays, a chocolate festival, curling, a frying pan toss, ultimate Frisbee, snowshoe races, inner tube races, snowshoe softball, theatrical performances, live music, and movie nights. And it just keeps getting better: The oldest winter festival in the eastern United States has been going strong for more than 120 years.
Written by Matt Wastradowski for RootsRated.