YoC5: Jelgava International Ice Sculpture Festival

YoC5: Jelgava International Ice Sculpture Festival

Gods and Goddesses in Ice

3–5 February 2023

This week I had a very special cultural experience, one that I have been thinking about since I moved here but never made it to—the Jelgava International Ice Sculpture Festival.

I believe this is the 24th year of the festival that invites people from all over the world to submit their ideas for ice sculptures and then come here and to make them for competition.  For the past couple of Covid years, the festival was smaller, and my friend Joe, who lives in Jelgava, said that the sculptures usually melt after a day or so. I don’t think that will be a problem this year as it is pretty cold.

Getting to Jelgava

I just wanted to slip this in here to show how much I love public transportation in Europe. I was able to take a bus directly from near my home to the central station where I got on a train to Jelgava. It took about an hour and cost me about 5 euros. The train was super crowded, and I somehow got on the wrong one, but it still got me where I was going.


Jelgava, as I understand it, is a nice city to live in. It is about 40 kilometers (20 miles) from Riga, and it used to be a center of culture and industry. In World War II, it was heavily bombed, and has basically rebuilt itself. It has a very cool summer palace that is in the style of Rundale designed by Rastrelli and some other cool sites. One of the coolest things is that on the Lielupe river, there is an island called Pasta Sala (no pasta salad jokes, please) that they have turned into a center of culture. This is where the ice sculpture festival takes place along with a sand sculpture festival in summer.

I posted this photo, Joe saw it and called me
The lights!

As is pretty typical of me, I walked directly to where I saw the shining lights, like a moth to flame, but found that the way was shut. They had fenced off the sidewalk, so I had to go all the way around to get to the main entrance of the festival. But, of course, this mistake meant that I was lucky enough to run into my friend Joseph Horgan  (sometimes referred to as “Jelgava Joe”) and his wife Liga. He is from Maine and has lived here for quite some time, speaking Latvian and all of that. He also is the founder and host of Latvia Weekly, a podcast that gives me some understanding of this strange country in which I live.

The Festival

After saying goodbye to Liga and Joe and walking a bit further, I bought a ticket at the ticket booth for 10 euros, and then entered the festival.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was thinking about how I have only seen ice sculpture festivals in movies, and usually for comic effect. I can see Bill Murray sculpting the ice angel in Groundhog Day as I write this. I had two choices once I entered, to go up and over the bridge where there seemed to be lots of lights and music, or walk down the midway where there were fires and vendors. I decided that a karst vins (hot wine) was in order, so I chose the latter.

It was a glorious night with a bright full moon shining overhead, and then the festival had a light show of beams emanating from the bridge in glorious colors. The sound at first was a deep, spiritual minimalist track that felt ancient and serious. I felt like I was in the right place at the right time.

The midway looked a lot like many Latvian festivals with a variety of folk-art vendors. The two food vendors at the main entrance had traditional foods like pork, sauerkraut, grey peas, and the like. Two servers were even dressed in robes to add a little bit of ambience. Soups boiled in giant iron kettles over open fires. I didn’t eat anything, but I enjoyed the smells.

I kept walking past the honey booth, mitten booth, and toward the river where I saw my first glimpse of the sculptures. I was happy that it wasn’t too crowded yet, and I didn’t feel like there were too many people. The crowd was mostly families and couples out to have a nice evening.

The Sculptures

In my mind, I imagined that the sculptures would be on pedestals, and you could walk around them, but this was not the case. Instead, each sculpture had its own tent, and you could really only see them from the front. This was a bit disappointing, but it makes sense because the tents both protect the sculptures and allow for them to be lit dramatically, which they were.

The theme for the festival, as I was told by a journalist, was something about gods and goddesses. Each statue captured mythological figures from all over the world in unique ways. Overall I was blown away by the designs, and really the only way to share is to do a gallery so you can see them as I saw them.

The problem was that I felt like I was just taking photos for this blog rather than appreciating the pieces. I saw other people doing this; they didn’t really even look at the sculptures, but instead just had their phone out, took a shot and then walked on. I wanted to slow down, read the placards, try to get something from the art rather than just making recordings to show “I was here.” A few of the sculptures were more moving than others, so I will share some that I really liked, and then make a gallery for the rest.

Two Face (Jan)

Two Face by Mindaugaus Tendziagolskis, Lithuania

The first one that caught my attention was this elongated face that blended from one into another making a circular infinite face. For some reason, I really liked this idea.


The Ruler of the Forest (Leshy)

Leshy by Arsentii Samoylov, Ukraine

The next one that was really cool was Leshy, the ruler of the forest by a Ukrainian artist. It glowed green and bright. The figure seems to be similar to a Tolkien ent wandering the forest with his staff.



Kupaylo by Oleksiy Poda, Ukraine

I had put my phone away and decided to just look at the sculptures, but then I came to this one, and there was something so striking and beautiful about it, that I couldn’t resist. I felt like I had an obligation to share it with everyone. Kupaylo is the patron of love, and it looks like an infinite wave of water with two people intertwined. The shape is just so interesting, and it caught the light in a way that my photo does not do justice to. And wasn’t the only one who liked this one because it ended up winning first prize!


I bought myself a hot wine, and kept on seeking out sculptures. As I was walking, the lights went out on the tents to the left of the bridge, I don’t know if this means anything, but there was a sigh of disappointment from some of the people.

In various places around the festival, they have sculptures that you are allowed to interact with. I realized, just now, that I don’t think I actually touched the ice of any of these sculptures though I was allowed.

There was a bull for children to sit on. I posed with Pegasus, and got a serious cramp in my left calf as I did so. It still hurts.

Pasta Sala


I limped back to the bridge and crossed over to the island. As I walked, I enjoyed listening to the music, now a pulsing dance beat, and I danced my way over, bathed in lights. It was a wonderful experience.

The island had another Midway with food vendors and many more sculptures. There were also these open areas with beautiful light shows that seemed to be just for hanging out and dancing. The vibe was excellent.

I was able to look at all the sculptures on the island just as the award ceremony began. The theme music was excellent, and I went inside the amphitheater (there is a “ph” in that word!) to listen to the award. I opened my phone to see which ones won, and most of them were ones that I also appreciated which was cool.




My favorite sculpture here was probably Shaman, with a lovely Shaman in the center surrounded by animal totems. I am always drawn to wolves.

It got second place. I am not sure which one won.

Pasta Sala Gallery

Latvian Sculptures

While many countries were well-represented at the festival, there was a special section of Latvian iconography encased in ice. I thought this was a cool (forgive the pun) way to show off some of the most important icons from our culture. The placards explained each item very well, and I learned a bit about these common symbols.

Latvian Gallery

Concert: Rīgas Modes

I had a shot of vodka and another hot wine and climbed to the roof of a food truck to observe the crowd. There I was joined by a Jelgava journalist who was wearing a Rick and Morty cap. We had a brief conversation, and then I heard that a band had started playing.

I went down to the amphitheater again to listen to a few song by Rīgas Modes, a band I know nothing about. They played alternative-sounding pop songs that felt like something from the 80s. I really enjoyed the song Balts Ferrari. I stood right at the front by the rail because it was sadly a bit empty. A man in a white coat kept yelling at me in Latvian about how great the band was. I guess he was either their biggest fan or manager. It was hard to tell.

After a few songs, I felt my internal clock ticking. I bought a ticket for the train using my phone and saw that the battery was quickly draining.

I started to leave, and just as I decided to do so, it started to snow. I walked over the bridge, and the lights caught the snow in such a beautiful way that everyone was stopping to take photos. Again, a little bit of magic.

I took a second look at some of the winners, and decided to buy a bottle of Latvian gin from a vendor. I hope it was a good decision.


I felt that overall, the art was meant to promote peace and understanding between people. There were many that dealt with gods of war and the horrors of war. Ukraine was well represented, and there is definitely a major sentiment here that this war needs to stop and these artists captured that in several pieces.

For just 10 euros, I was able to experience 60 beautiful sculptures in a festive atmosphere and have a wonderful Friday night. Well done Jelgava! I will definitely be back, and I would encourage you to go if you don’t have plans. I think that the festival would be best at night, but you still have Saturday and Sunday to get there!

More photos

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Side Note:

On the way home, I stopped at Circle K, and they let me plug my phone in while I ate a hot dog in the store. They were so friendly and fun. I just want to give a shout out to the two workers at the Jelgava Circle K who likely saved my life because I needed my phone for the train ticket and then the Bolt home once I got back to Riga!

And please, feel free to comment and tell me which sculptures you like best! I realize that I didn’t put names to all of the, but feel free to make up your own names. My apologies to the artists that didn’t get named here, but I just forgot to take photos of all the placards.


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