An ice lantern is a wintertime work of art widely created in north China. It was originally made for illumination, providing a light source for the life and work of farmers and fishermen of north China in chilly winter night. Later, the crystal-clear ice lanterns of various shapes and sizes gradually became a folk art and an ice lantern fair became a folk recreational activity unique to the north.
In ancient times, it was fairly easy to make an ice lantern. People would normally put water into a bucket to freeze it, before the water got completely frozen, they would take the bucket indoors and slightly heat it up. This was to separate the ice block from the bucket. Then, they would chisel open the top of the ice block and pour out the unfrozen water inside. Thus, the block would be a hollow ice cover. Then, a light would be placed into the cover and an ice lantern was ready.
The ice-covered light would not be blown out in the chilly wind. That’s why fishermen by the Songhua River and farmers in the north would carry an ice lantern at night when catching fish or feeding horses at night. Those couldn’t afford a conventional lantern would make ice lanterns during the Spring Festival and Lantern Festival to jazz up the joyful atmosphere. They would put the ice lanterns in front of the doors or attach a rope to the lanterns and give them to children as a toy.
Harbin, the capital city of Heilongjiang Province, is the birthplace of Chinese ice and snow art. During the Lantern Festival of 1963, the city hosted the very first ice lantern fair in the park, during which over a thousand ice lanterns and dozens of ice flowers made with simple tools like basins and basket for freezing were on display. The fair instantly caused a sensation across the city, attracting nearly all the people in town.
Later, a large-scale annual ice lantern fair was held each year in Harbin, with every January 5th being set as Harbin Ice & Snow Festival that features ice and snow arts, sports, culture and tourism, adding a spring feel to the winter of the icy city.