Cafeaplis — coffe + community @ minneapolis

Winter Festivals

During my quest to understand how cities can better embrace the winter season, I found that many cultures and communities survive those long winter months by gathering together and throwing themselves a party. Winter festivals in Northern Europe began with pagan-based rituals in the Middle Ages. While some still follow cultural traditions, many festivals today are commercial in nature. Some are large, attracting international crowds and generating a huge economic impact on the surrounding region; others are celebrated only by a small local community. Some festivals focus on the arts, while others have recreational competitions at their heart. Almost all festivals include some measure of music, food, drink, pageantry, beauty, and light. Each and every winter festival lends an air of community and festivity to an otherwise drab and lonely time of year.


Here are some of my favorites:

Up Helly Aa on Shetland Island, UK: Hundreds of people dressed as Vikings and carrying lighted torches form a procession through the darkened streets, singing Viking songs and following a Viking ship. After burning the ship in the harbor, they then spend the rest of the night singing, dancing, eating, and drinking. Everyone gets the next day off to recover.


Up Helly Aa: squads and the boat

Up Helly Aa procession and Viking boat by David Little, flickr


Fire Festival by colemic2006, flickr


Snow Light Path Festival(Yukiakarinomichi) in Otaru, Japan: This one looks particularly beautiful, celebrating the simple but breath-taking beauty of light and snow and ice. This historic city displays thousands of ice and snow lanterns on paths and streets – even floating in the canal – creating a “fantasy world after dark”.


Otaru Snow Festival Canal

Canal at the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival by LeeLeFever

Otaru Snow Festival

Otaru Snow Festival by Tony Lin, flickr


Rørosmartnan: In the World Heritage mining town of Røros, Norway, residents celebrate folk cultural traditions on the streets in February with a marketplace, concerts and dances, cultural crafts, storytelling and bonfires in backyards, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. This one sounds particularly fun to me. It just looks so simple and homey and all about having fun outside with your neighbors in winter – and people seem to dress up in a lot of fur. Be sure to check out more photos on the official website. And side note: check out the village’s gorgeous building colors and green roofs in summer!


Horse sleds at Rørosmartnan

Horse sleds at Rørosmartnan by Sigmund, flickr

Røros market

Røros market by Sigmund, flickr

Røros - Sleggvegen

Røros by Randi Hausken, flickr


The last winter festival today is one of the weirder ones I came across…

Frozen Dead Guy Days: In the small mountain town of Nederland, Colorado, this crazy festival was inspired by the strange but true story of a Norwegian man (“Grandpa”) who, when he died in 1989, was cryogenically frozen and shipped to Nederland, where he is still “cared for” (packed in dry ice) in a nearby shed. The festival consists of a series of rather creative competitions including coffin racing, polar plunging, frozen salmon tossing, a frozen t-shirt contest, snowy beach volleyball, and a Rocky Mountain oyster-eating contest. Supposedly some festival-goers even make a special visit to the shed each year to have a drink with Grandpa, (may he RIP).


Coffin Race by Jamie Gulick, flickr

Frozen Dead Guy Days Poster

Frozen Dead Guy Days Poster by J. Stephen Conn, flickr


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© Copyright 2006 Adrienne Bockheim.