Photos: Where Ice and Snow Warm the Hearts of Festival Visitors

1-7-15 Harbin 1
People visit ice sculptures illuminated by colored lights during a trial operation before the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

The northeast United States might be feeling an uncomfortable chill this week, but for Harbin, a city in China’s northeastern Heilongjiang province, the colder, the better. Rather than complain, chilly temperatures are a cause for celebration with the 31st annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, which kicked off on Monday.

1-7-15 Harbin weather It's colder in Harbin. weather.com

The festival, sponsored by the Heilongjiang Provincial Government, the Harbin Municipal Government, and the Tourism Administration of Harbin, begins on January 5 every year and runs through the end of February, depending on weather conditions.

The agenda for the festival includes snow and ice sculpture competitions, ice sailing, skiing, a "snow film art festival," exhibitions, performances and even a few wedding ceremonies on ice. 

As temperatures dip, the city becomes a feast for the eyes, even if visitors can’t quite feel their toes.

1-7-15 Harbin 2 Visitors look around ice sculptures ahead of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 3 People heading to the festival on the opening day are silhouetted against ice sculptures illuminated by colored lights. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 16 Newlyweds pose in front of an ice sculpture for their wedding photographs after their group wedding ceremony which was held as part of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 7 People visit a maze built with ice bricks and illuminated by colored lights during a trial operation ahead of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 4 People visit ice sculptures illuminated by colored lights during the opening day of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 8 People ride slides on ice sculptures illuminated by colored lights during the opening day of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 9 Visitors use kaleidoscopes which are displayed with ice sculptures ahead of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 18 A visitor takes a picture with an ice sculpture ahead of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 10 A woman looks for space to hang her red ribbon bearing her wish on an ice sculpture during the opening day of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 11 Visitors walk past a train-shaped ice sculpture ahead of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 15 Visitors walk past large snow sculptures during the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 17 Swimmers dive into a pool carved into thick ice covering the Songhua River during the Harbin Ice Swimming Competition. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 13 People visit ice sculptures illuminated by colored lights during the opening day of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

1-7-15 Harbin 14 Chinese lanterns are seen in front of ice sculptures illuminated by colored lights during the opening day of the festival. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters