The month of February is when we celebrate Carnival and although most people only think of the colourful Brazilian Carnival, the Carnival of Quebec is one of the most important winter festivities in the world.
The Carnival of Quebec started in 1894 as a party for the citizens who, tried by the harsh winter, wanted to greet the end of the colder months with appointments that allowed them to be outdoors. For this reason, the city organized and proposed activities with the intent to warm up the cold participants. The programs include day activities such as dog sled rides, folk dances and live music events, rides, ice glissade for children, whiskey tasting for adults, as well as hockey and canoe racing on ice.
At the Carnival of Quebec, there is no shortage of colourful costumes and beautifully decorated floats, which go around accompanied by live music and choreographed dances through the streets of our cities. One of the most famous is the nighttime cavalcade of Haute-Ville, in the historic center of Quebec City.
The main grace is to enjoy how the cold and snow become the main element of the party, making it very different from their Brazilian counterparts and how the locals make the most of this harsh weather.
In that sense, the exhibition of ice sculptures deserves a special mention. What was once a decorative initiative of just some neighborhoods has become an art show, with works by artists from all over Canada.
The most impressive one is always the Ice Palace of Bonhomme, the mascot of the Carnival in Quebec.
Bonhomme is a snow sculpture wearing a red hat and a typical scarf.
Traditionally, every year, during the opening night of the carnival, the mayor of Quebec City gives the keys of the city to Bonhomme, symbolically confirming his role in this event.
But there also many other ice ‘buildings’ of all kinds, such as towers or castles, with slides and other elements that mix art with the fun for the little ones, who can actually climb the creations and use them as a playground.
The colour that distinguishes the carnival is red: that's why you'll see many visitors dressed in this colour and the typical garment (worn also by the mascot) is an ‘arrow band’. The origins of this garment are ancient: it seems, in fact, that it was knotted at the waist to prevent the icy air from penetrating under the clothes.
The typical musical instrument of the Carnival are the special elongated trumpets whose sound reaches up to 140 decibels! They are usually used to attract visitors to the areas of greatest interest when there is a special event going on.
Winter sports are also protagonists of the Carnival. Some brave men dive in the snow in a swimsuit. Others participate in the famous canoe race that runs along the river. Other outstanding activities are dog sled races or snowmobiling. There are also some improvised tracks to have fun with friends practicing snow rafting.
Canadians have their remedies for the cold, beyond the thick jackets and coats.
Among Canadian winter specialties we find the 'caribou', a hot wine-based drink, and the 'toutierre', a potato pie filled with game meat, at times rabbit, at times venison.
Some stands also sell mulled wine and a pork paste served with spiced bread and a soup, especially onion and cabbage soup, as these comfort foods are amongst the best options to warm up.
Floats, costumes, ice sculptures, sports, fun, mulled wine and excellent Canadian cuisine. Are you sure you prefer to stay in front of the fireplace around Carnival time?