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14 Winter Festivals and Traditions Around the World

Winter Festivals and Traditions Around the World

In anticipation of the clocks going back this weekend (30 October) and the winter season drawing nearer, below are 14 winter festivals and traditions around the world to get you in the seasonal spirit.

Festivals 

WinterFest, Seattle, Washington (25 November-31 December)

The five weeks of WinterFest at Seattle Center are bound to lift seasonal spirit with the Winter Train and Village – a yearly tradition which has been displayed for over 40 years and an annual lighting display. Not to mention the ice sculpting, fire pits and food vendors during the opening day celebration on the 25th of November. Each weekend will feature live performances which will provide a seasonal soundtrack whilst guests enjoy the other activities on offer. Entertainment will be supplied by local dancers, musicians and comedians. visitseattle.org

Winter Festivals and Traditions Around the World

Winterfest, Sacramento, California (29 November-26 December)

This year Sacramento will be hosting Winterfest 2022 from 29 November to 26 December. Winterfest is a feel-good virtual challenge that benefits the Sacramento Salvation Army. Much like an Advent calendar, each day participants will have a new challenge or goal to complete to keep them active during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. The Winterfest committee will share a holiday playlist so those taking part have some gentle festive encouragement. The challenges are only suggestions so participants can do as little or as much as they would like. To register click herewww.visitsacramento.com

Winter Festivals and Traditions Around the World

Vail Snow Days, Colorado (December dates TBC)

Vail kicks off the winter ski season in style with its annual Vail Snow Days – four days of free concerts taking place throughout the resort. Visitors can make the most of fresh mountain snow by day then head into the village for après parties and live music at night. Taking place at Ford Park, the headliner concerts will take place on Friday and Saturday evenings. What’s more, travellers can go ice-skating at Vail Square Ice Rink to top off their experience. www.colorado.com

Festival of Lights Parade, Greater Palm Springs, California (3 December)

Held in the heart of Palm Springs since the early 1990s, the Festival of Lights Parade is a community celebration of all things festive and has become a much-loved holiday tradition for both locals and visitors. This year marks the 30th annual parade, and will feature tractors and floats covered in lights, marching bands and performance groups as well as a visiting Santa and Mrs. Claus. The parade is due to begin at 5:45pm. www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/

Wintersköl, Aspen Snowmass, Colorado (12-15 January)

A “toast to winter” dating back to 1951 when locals decided to celebrate Aspen’s unique alpine lifestyle with an eclectic weekend of festivities, this four day celebration, now in its 72nd year, is taking place between 12-15 January 2023. Wintersköl will feature free family-friendly activities across Aspen and the resort’s mountains, where visitors can enjoy snow sculptures, downhill ski racing, and a film screening, culminating with a torchlight descent down Aspen Mountain and fireworks. www.aspensnowmass.com 

Winter Festivals and Traditions Around the World

Whistler Pride and Ski Festival, Whistler, Canada (22-29 January) 

Whistler is proud to host the annual Whistler Pride and Ski Festival every January. One of the biggest and best gay and lesbian ski weeks in North America, the LGBTQI pride week features a packed schedule of skiing, snowboarding, parties, arts and culture and social events. Taking place in 2023 from 22-29 January, there will be daily Pride and Ski guided group tour opportunities where travellers can meet on the mountain and make new friends. Evening programming includes the Whistler Pride Welcome Reception, a night at Vallea Lumina, Spa-lash at the Scandinave Spa and the Whistler Pride Comedy Night. www.whistler.com

Subzero Forest, Gifu, Japan (1 January-31 March)

The Subzero Forest in Takayama is an artistic and captivating forest of ice which has been enchanting visitors since 1971. The ‘Forest of Ice’, which was created by the innkeeper of the Akigami Onsen Ryokan, is blue in the afternoon, and lures visitors into a breathtaking world of fantasy during the night time illuminations. The event is planned each September, ready for the ice wonderland every January through to March. visitgifu.com

Sapporo Snow Festival, Hokkaido, Japan (4-11 February)

2023 will see the return of the Sapporo Snow Festival in person for the first time in three years, bringing winter festivities, sports and culture to millions. Held annually in February and free to attend, the festival celebrates winter with ice sculpture shows, an international snow sculpture competition, snow experiences from slides to rafting, and local cuisine. Set up across three sites in Hokkaido’s capital, an area which receives a large amount of snow each winter, the central site is in Odori Park, easily accessed by subway. This year, the festival is expected to be smaller by not including the snow slides or rafting experiences, due to Covid-19, however, after the three-year hiatus, the return of the snow lovers’ festival is highly anticipated. Experience the festival this coming season for its 73rd year, from 4 – 11 February 2023. www.japan.travel/en/

The Hachinohe Enburi Festival, Hachinohe, Japan (17-20 February)

As winter comes to an end, Hachinohe, a city in the northern Aomori prefecture, celebrates winter and the season to come with the traditional Enburi Festival. The dances performed are now a National Important Intangible Folk Property of Japan, as the celebration is believed to be dated back to the early 12th century. The festival takes place with dancing, performers and historic costumes, before ending with a warming bonfire night and piping hot local treats, amazake and Hachinohe senbei soup. visithachinohe.com/en/

Nagasaki Lantern Festival, Kyushu, Japan

Known as the island of festivals, locally ‘matsuri’, Kyushu is a melting pot of culture, art and festivities year round. Each new year, Nagasaki puts on the biggest lantern festival in Japan to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and is turned into the city of light with thousands of warm lantern displays. At this time, the city on the northwest coast of Kyushu also celebrates with live music, street entertainment and impressive performances, such as the Jaodori dance. Beginning as a way for the Chinese settlers to celebrate the New Year, the festival is now one of the highlights of visiting Kyushu in the winter. The upcoming Nagasaki Lantern Festival will take place during the first 15 days of the Chinese New Year, from the 22 January 2023. www.visit-kyushu.com/en/

Night of Lights, Mammoth Lakes, California (17 December)

A one-of-a-kind evening at Canyon Lodge to kick off the holidays, Night of Lights is a free, fun-filled night for all ages with live music, a torchlight parade, kids activities, snowmobiles rides and a firework spectacular that lights up the Sierra sky. www.visitmammoth.com 

Traditions 

Highmark Holiday Pops, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (9-18 December)

Celebrate Pittsburgh’s favourite holiday tradition with all the family and revel in the excitement of the holiday season with Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Highmark Holiday Pops. An array of carols, classics, sing-alongs and Santa Claus – the tradition is the perfect way to kick off the Christmas season. Taking place at Heinz Hall, the artists are made up of The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, a very special guest and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. www.visitpittsburgh.com

Oceanside Harbour Parade of Lights, California (10 December)

With a variety of festive celebrations taking place in Oceanside in December, the Oceanside Harbour Parade of Lights, a spectacle with boats of all shapes and sizes, is one of the highlights. Visitors will get to see many of the captains and boat crews all dressed up in their holiday best, with a few Santas joining in on all the fun. Following the parade, prizes are awarded for the best-decorated powerboat, sailboat and small-craft boats. www.visitcalifornia.com

Valencia’s Nativity Scenes (1 December – 6 January)

One of the most important Christmas traditions in Valencia is the Nativity Scene, which dates back to Saint Francis of Assisi, who placed a manger inside a cave with an image of the Baby Jesus and a live ox and mule beside the manger. With this scene as a backdrop, the Christmas Eve mass of 1223 was celebrated. The idea was so successful that it extended to all of Italy and King Charles III of Spain imported the tradition to his country in the 18th century. This tradition is kept alive in the city’s public spaces, with the monumental Nativity Scene built by the City Council in Plaza del Ayuntamiento. In addition, there are a number of Nativity Scenes in shopping centres, churches, the Cathedral and many of the city’s museums, such as the Ceramics Museum. www.visitvalencia.com

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