Spending Christmas in Canada?
How to Have a Jolly Holiday

Spending Christmas in Canada? Want to enjoy some Canadian Christmas traditions? How about taking in a few festive events?

Photo courtesy of Winter Festival of Lights

If you’re spending Christmas in Ontario, you may want to take in some fun-filled festive events in Toronto, Ottawa and Niagara Falls. Although there are way too many to cover in a short article, I will give you a brief overview of the kinds of events you’ll find, then focus in on some of the best things to do at Christmas in the top three Ontario tourist destinations.

The joy of Christmas in Canada

Let’s start with the lights! Christmas is one of the prettiest times of the year in Canada. Our cities and towns are lit up with colourful Christmas lights both public and private. Every year there seems to be something more spectacular than the last.

Many churches host Christmas choirs and sing-alongs and readings of A Christmas Carol. Handel’s Messiah is an old standard at this time of year. There are also Christmas musical revues, carol concerts and even a black-light theatre show with a Christmas theme by the Famous People Players. Big-name Canadian singers host musical shows during Christmas in Canada and of course there’s the well-loved Nutcracker ballet in Toronto and Ross Petty's Fractured Fairy Tales.

Feeling nostalgic? Want to celebrate “Christmas past’? Staff members at Ontario history museums are busy like elves in late November decorating the houses up for Christmas in the style of the time period specific to the building. They also host events like concerts or breakfast with Santa. Kids can enjoy Christmas-themed craft workshops.

Most cities and towns host Christmas craft shows where you can pick up that perfect souvenir of your trip to Canada. One of the biggest is the One of Kind Christmas Show in Toronto, which features Canada’s finest artists and artisans, or Signature in Ottawa, but you can also find Christmas bazaars with handmade crafts in churches all across the country. Often these include a “Christmas tea” which means a lunch at a reasonable price with baked goodies and tea or coffee…YUM.

And speaking of food, you can’t go far during Christmas in Canada without being tempted by all the seasonal cooking and baking. Places like Blackcreek Pioneer Village in Toronto even host Christmas dinners complete with turkey and all the trimmings for three Sundays every December. Other living history museums feature traditional treats in their historic kitchens (a sample is usually included in the admission fee).

Now here’s a small taste of some popular Christmas events in the three top tourist destinations in Ontario.

Niagara Falls

Photo courtesy of Winter Festival of Lights

Lights are a big part of Christmas in Canada and every year Niagara Falls hosts the spectacular Winter Festival of Lights. It’s a display featuring more than 120 animated scenes and 3 million sparkling lights. You can find these animated figures (Santa, of course, but many others including Disney ones) all along the edge of the river, on Queen Street (downtown Niagara Falls, a great shopping street) and in Dufferin Islands Park. You don’t have to be a kid to get a kick out of these delightful scenes!

In recent years an exciting feature has been added to the winter fun at the Falls: skating at the “Rink at the Brink”. 

Brrrr…. Baby it’s frosty out there… Niagara Falls in winter can be cccccc-old. Want to warm up? A greenhouse is the perfect place. Check out the gorgeous seasonal floral displays at Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse . It’s a wonderful (and FREE) greenhouse not far from the Horseshoe Falls.


In Toronto, the centre of Christmas celebrations is the skating rink in Nathan Philips Square in front of Toronto City Hall. Each year from late November to early January the square is decorated with a large Christmas tree and Christmas lights. It’s also the scene of outdoor concerts (including the big one on New Year’s Eve). Grab a hot chocolate, lace up and enjoy the dazzling lights around the rink.

Nearby Yonge-Dundas Square also hosts family Christmas events in November and December.

Toronto downtown shops vie with one another for their Christmas displays too. Two “must-sees” are The Hudson Bay Christmas windows and the giant Christmas tree in the Eaton Centre.

Of course the big event for kids is the Santa Clause Parade which takes place in late December which winds down Yonge Street.

One of my new Christmas traditions is the “fractured fairytale” productions put on by Ross Petty (http://rosspetty.com) every year at the Elgin Theatre, a grand old Toronto theatre. If you like music and comedy (and a little cross-dressing) this is something you have to experience! It’s for kids and adults alike, and the price is very reasonable compared to other musicals in Toronto.


Ottawa, the nation’s capital, has its own spectacular Christmas light show. Head for the streets surrounding major sites like Parliament Hill, The National Gallery and over the river in nearby Gatineau, the Canadian Museum of History and you’ll see the most brilliant displays. The city puts up 300,000 Christmas lights at 60 sites in central Ottawa… and that’s just the public ones. We aren’t counting private homes.

Ottawa’s an outdoorsy city so why not go skating on Rideau Canal or cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park? Now that’s an authentic way to celebrate Christmas in Canada.

Of course Ottawa also has many of the nation’s best venues for the performing arts so if it’s music you’re after, you’ll find plenty of concerts to keep you humming Christmas tunes.

Merry Christmas to you and yours! 

BONUS TIP: For a unique Christmas tradition, try the Christkindl Market in Kitchener Ontario -- a German take on the Christmas experience. For more info see: http://www.christkindl.ca

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