Christmas can be quite magical in the city. While it may lack the serenity of a snow-capped countryside Christmas, the city has a charm all its own. Spectacular window displays, holiday music in the stores, city streetscapes hung in evergreen and twinkling lights – festivities spring from every street corner and beckon you to join the merry-making.
For those celebrating Christmas in Toronto, there are several activities and events worth attending. The city’s sheer amount of activity can occasionally seem like Christmas on overdrive, so it’s worthwhile to look into the events and decide which ones suit your tastes. For anyone feeling overwhelmed by the options, here is a varied list of activities guaranteed to put a smile on even the Grinch’s face.
Celebrate Christmas in a castle! Once upon a time, Casa Loma was the most lavish private residence in Canada. Built by industrialist Henry Pellatt in 1911, Casa Loma, literally “house on the hill,” is now a monument to the opulence and romance of a bygone era. Toronto’s very own castle has several festive events throughout December, including a classic holiday concert, gingerbread-making activities, holiday performances of Peter Pan as well as A Christmas Carol and the always popular Breakfast with Santa.
When: Events occur throughout December
Where: Casa Loma
Santa Claus Parade
Celebrate the 109th annual parade and welcome Santa Claus as he sleighs into Toronto to kick off the holiday season. With of amazing bands, iconic floats and of course, the big man himself, the parade is a beloved tradition, attended by thousands and watched by millions. Beginning at Christie Pits and heading east along Bloor, the parade winds south on University and then east on Wellington to end at St. Lawrence Market. There are several fantastic viewing points, but the popular areas fill up fast, so arrive early. It’s also a good idea to bundle up, bring something to sit on and of course stock up on refreshments—a thermos of hot chocolate is always appreciated when the wind gets chilly. Oh, and don’t forget your letters to Santa—the elves along the parade route will collect and deliver them for you.
When: Parade begins at 12:30pm, Sunday, November 17th
Where: Pick your favourite spot! Parade begins at Christie Pits and ends at the St. Lawrence Market
The Nutcracker Ballet
Nothing brings back the joy of childhood belief quite like watching Christmas through the eyes of Marie and her beloved Nutcracker. Enter the whimsical Land of Sweets and watch height-defying Christmas trees, a battle against the Mouse-King and dancing sweets from around the world to feel again the magic and wonder of the holidays. Great for children, “The Nutcracker” is one of the most accessible ballets, with an entertaining and easy to follow storyline, fantastic visuals and some of the most beautiful and recognizable classical music ever written. Choreographed by James Kudelka and performed by the National Ballet of Canada, this ballet is always superb and will leave you humming Tchaikovsky as visions of sugar plum fairies dance through your head.
When: Performances run between December 14 and January 4
Where: Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
The Cavalcade of Lights
There are many beautiful Christmas trees throughout Toronto, however, if you wish to see Toronto’s official tree being lit, then head for the Cavalcade of Lights. The evening is filled with fanfare and begins with several performances on stage in Nathan Phillips Square. The tree is lit at 8pm along with a fireworks display. Afterward, weather-permitting, an open-air skating party begins on the square’s ice rink along with a free concert. If you can’t bring your own skates, rentals are available on site.
When: Saturday, November 30
Where: Nathan Phillips Square
Distillery District Christmas Market
Sick of the same old shopping malls and pining for an old world Christmas experience? Look no further then Toronto’s own Distillery District, which hosts a European-style Christmas market. A cultural hub no matter the season, the Distillery District really lights up during the holidays. Decked out in Bavarian splendor, the Victorian Industrial market hosts an array of artisans selling those unique and perfect gifts you won’t find elsewhere. Make sure to enjoy the craft-brewed beer or mulled wine as you stroll the streets and enjoy events like traditional caroling, folk dancing, or even a visit from St. Nicholas.
When: November 29 – December 15
Where: Distillery District
If you’re strolling through downtown Toronto, you will probably stumble across this winter wonderland as it sits in the heart of the city. Every year, Yonge-Dundas Square is transformed into a frosty playground with a magnificent 40 foot tree and some fanciful lighting installations. Several events are set to take place in and around the area, with a little something for everyone. Whether you are bringing the children for Kidzfest, enjoying the street performances during Buskertainment, or indulging your inner foodie at the Ice, Wine & Dine event, Winter Magic is a sure stop when downtown.
When: November 15 – December 1
Where: Downtown Yonge and Dundas area
When in the mood for glitz and glamour, head to Yorkville, Toronto’s high-end shopping area. Well known for its stunning and artistic holiday windows, the area also hosts several events. Kicking-off the season is a tree lighting ceremony and a concert featuring Sarah Slean. Make sure to stop by the Gardiner Museum to see the 12 Trees of Christmas exhibit, featuring the creations of Toronto’s top designers. And if you have partaken in one too many Christmas cookies and your belly is starting to shake like bowl full of jelly, join the Toronto Santa Speedo Run. Exactly what it sounds like, this event is a fun and light-hearted fundraiser for the Sick Kids Foundation that takes place in Yorkville.
When: November 16 through December
Where: Yorkville and areas around Yonge and Bloor
Black Creek Pioneer Village
Step back in time and celebrate Christmas the way our pioneer ancestors did. Always popular with children, Black Creek Pioneer Village brings the pioneer experience to life. Christmas activities include horse-drawn wagon rides, a gingerbread-house competition, ornament making, caroling and even ballroom dancing. Experience the village aglow at night when you attend Christmas by Lamplight or make reservations and enjoy the tastes of a traditional pioneer Christmas dinner.
When: Christmas at Black Creek runs from November 16 – December 23. Christmas by Lamplight: December 7, 14, and 21. Christmas Dinner: December 8, 15, and 22
Where: Black Creek Pioneer Village
So as the temperatures drop and the snowflakes begin to fall, resist the temptation to hibernate in the house. Embrace the winter holidays and participate in one or more of these fun-filled activities. It’s an excellent way to get into the festive spirit and enjoy Toronto at one of its most magical times of the year.