ICE! exhibit brings chilly cheer to holiday season

Explore sculptures, scenes and slides created from two million pounds of ice at the Gaylord National Resort.

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The shepherds are shrinking. Their hands have gotten bony-looking and weird as the ice they're made from passes from solid to gas despite the frigid temperature. Mary's fingers will go next -- her knuckles are already knobby -- and Baby Jesus, even Baby Jesus's swaddling clothes will eventually need a touch-up. He'll be sprayed with mist to restore him to holiness.

The ice is essential to the celebration of Christmas at National Harbor in Prince George's County. There are 2 million pounds of it, carved into 10 massive tableaux in a climate-controlled tent held steady at a merry 9 degrees. There are also two-story ice slides, a crystalline Santa's Workshop, a penguin village and every other holiday tradition and trope, scooched up right next to one another.

Think of it all as an EpiPen filled with Christmas spirit, a jolt to the system after an autumn of doldrums. Witness Victorian Christmas, Polar Christmas, Religious Christmas -- all at this explosion of holiday festivity known as ICE! As many as 8,000 people have been shivering their way through the exhibit every day since it opened in late November.

To tend the ice, which is American Big, you need carvers with American know-how, except that it turns out Americans don't know how to deal with ice of this magnitude, so in very American fashion, carvers have been imported from China. A small colony of artisans from the northern Chinese city of Harbin works in shifts to keep the ice crisp. .

Early on a recent Saturday, before ICE! opens to the public for the day, master carver Guo Bai Wei deftly amputates the hands of a shepherd, replacing them with ones he spent the morning fashioning.

He is replacing the hands, his translator explains helpfully.

When you think about Christmas, you think North Pole, maybe? You think 34th Street, or Rockefeller Center and ice skates and hot chocolate?

Wrong.

The Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center, sponsor of ICE!, wants you to think "Christmas" and then think "Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center." They have been trying on a slogan: "The New Capital of Christmas."

* * *

Let us make a pilgrimage into the frigid 15,000-square-foot refrigerator that is ICE!


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