The festive season. The holiday season. The winter holidays. Whatever language you use, the period of time between late November and early January is a peak season for joy. Whether you celebrate a particular tradition or you just get sentimental when you see people ice skating to classical music in Nathan Phillips Square doesn’t matter. This is a time of year when we can all stop being cynical. As Linus Van Pelt of Charlie Brown taught us years ago, we don’t need to be led by the commercial side of the holidays.
An evergreen is eagerly anticipated in Nathan Phillips Square every year. Once it is hoisted, the festivities unofficially begin. As we have well seen, it is not just December, but November that becomes drenched in holiday spirit, hoping to spark the holiday warm-and-fuzzies. Other people want the Starbucks red cups and overdone Christmas windows to start at a later time, say, closer to the actual holidays that they are marking.
Whenever you are ready for it, the attractions that are designed to get your nostalgia pumping are ready and waiting. Whether you go bundled up to the Distillery’s beloved Christmas Market in all its cobblestone glory or stay warm at the indoor Glow Toronto, the festive season in Toronto is something special.
When you first find your way in between Spadina and Bathurst and then in between College and Dundas in Toronto, you may feel that you haven’t found anything special at first. However, as you start your walking journey throughout Kensington Market, you quickly realize you have entered the realm of something unique. Kensington has quite a history, but today it stands as a multicultural community of noncomformists. During the holidays, it becomes the ideal place for one-of-a-kind gifts. In addition, there is a Christmas Food Tour where you can enjoy an array of treats, from artisanal cheeses to mulled wine. Plus, on December 21 there is the Kensington Market Winter Solstice Parade which has Hanukkah candles, the fire of Christian faith and the pagan celebration of the solstice.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: From a solstice parade to a Christmas Food Tour, Kensington wants to make sure that you have a very funky holiday season.
Courtney’s expert tip: Check out Hibiscus cafe for a Christmas market that has everything from mulled wine to local art to live music.
What better way to celebrate winter than in the open air with hundreds of your closest (social media) friends? Toronto’s top DJs spin tunes for free Saturday nights at Harbourfront’s Natrel Rink, including New Year’s Eve, where skates will be kept pumping directly into 2020. Set against the beautiful backdrop of Lake Ontario, it offers the romance of winter with a heated indoor locker room for those times when you can’t feel your face. The rink is frequently open during the week for skating lessons if you need to brush up on your skills. Get ready to be seriously cool.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Tis the season for a little outdoor skating fun. It is perfectly timed before you go into hibernation.
Courtney’s expert tip: In January, come on January 25 for a queer night of skating (with blades of glory anthems all night long).
The National Ballet of Canada has performed for over 50 years and over 10 million people in the heart of Toronto. The company performs works from both contemporary and classical masters and employs some of Canada’s top-notch artists, dancers and musicians. Every holiday season (this year from December 12-January 4) it breaks out the Nutcracker, a beloved holiday tale that they perform flawlessly with 187 costumes in each performance. Come 45 minutes before for Nutcracker story time, to enhance children’s experience of the ballet. It is a spectacle that will make you believe in holiday magic (or at least the Sugar Plum fairy).
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: An opulent ballet with a layered tale of a sparkling winter realm. The Nutcracker is a perfect December treat.
Courtney’s expert tip: Buy your tickets early – for the last four years, this has been a sold out performance. Standing room tickets are possible for $12 and are sold the day of.
Created in 1967 to showcase Toronto’s newly constructed city hall and the Nathan Phillips Square public space that fronts the building, the Cavalcade of Lights today kicks off a month of holiday festivities with a tree lighting ceremony in the square on the last weekend of November. The buildings surrounding Nathan Phillips Square are decorated with festive LED lights, making the display even more cheerful. The opening event is marked by free musical performances including the Les Chausseurs de Rêves and the Lemon Bucket Okestra. Cap it off with fireworks and a countdown (who needs to wait for New Year’s Eve?). A DJ skating party keeps the festive vibe going all the way to 10:30pm, when your cold fingers may need a break anyway.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The good side of the holidays is seeing lights ignite the hearts of the Scroogiest of people.
Courtney’s expert tip: The official City of Toronto Christmas tree this year is more than 60 feet high. If you can’t get close (this is a very busy event!), at least you will get a good shot.
Canada’s Wonderland is not directly in Toronto, but every born and bred Torontonian has a solid Canada’s Wonderland story. In the winter, it is transformed into a land of enchantment and holiday cheer because we can’t get enough of winter wonderlands (at least until January, when we are done with winter). In 2019, from November 22 to December 31, ice skate on snow flake lake, wonder at 5 million lights, and enjoy 50-foot trees on International Street. There will be lots of holiday food to enjoy, cookie decorating with Mrs. Claus, pics with St. Nick and interactions with characters like Jack Frost and The Sugar Plum Fairy.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Santa, The Sugar Plum Fairy and Ugly Holiday sweaters? What more could you want for Christmas?
Courtney’s expert tip: Buy your tickets online early to save a few bucks.
This 115-year-old tradition (the “original” Santa Claus Parade) still has parents bundling up their kids and loading up mugs of hot chocolate. Most Torontonians have memories of waiting anxiously for Santa Claus to come to town at this non-for-profit parade. Santa made his first appearance in 1905! The historical charm has been preserved, as some of the floats from nursery rhyme characters date back from the early 1900s while others are more modern, such as the Harry Potter animated float or the one dedicated to Hockey Night in Canada. In 2019, the parade is celebrating their General Manager and Creative Director, Alf Iannarelli, who has been a part of 50 parades himself. Over 2,000 costumed volunteers help to spread the holiday joy, while over 20 marching bands play carols and classic tunes. It is a big deal to get chosen to participate in the parade. By the time Santa Comes around with his signature “ho ho ho” the crowd has no chance but to be enchanted.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Trends come and go, but Santa Claus never goes out of style.
Courtney’s expert tip: Important note for 2019: the parade has changed its route! It is now starting in the east end making its way into the centre. See the website for the parade map.
You know a festival is good when it can boast things like “The World’s Largest Indoor Christmas Festival!” That is what Glow is all about, now in 11 cities to keep your frostbite at bay while you get overwhelmed by how much holiday spirit you can cram into your heart. All kidding aside, Toronto’s version of Glow is serious fun for the whole family. The theme for 2019 is “Santa’s Lost Presents.” Go walking through a garden of a million Christmas lights. Cheat on your holiday cards this year by getting a snap by one of their hanging picture frames. Take a trackless train with the kids or let them blow off steam in the festive playgrounds. Daily live music will provide a great soundtrack while you get your shopping done through boutique businesses.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The magic of an outdoor festival and the coziness of an indoor festival. Hurray for central heating.
Courtney’s expert tip: Check their website for their hours which vary as the weeks get closer to Christmas. There are also date nights for those who need some adult time (after 9pm).
When it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and you are Canadian, you strap on a pair of ice skates and hope for the best. The top place to do this during the holiday season is undeniably Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. Located right in front of City Hall and around the corner from the Eaton’s Centre and popular restaurants, it is a great activity to sandwich between other downtown pursuits. Bring your own skates for free exercise or rent skates for $10 or less. During the holidays, the rink sparkles with lights and displays a large holiday tree for Toronto’s version of New York’s Rockefeller Centre. The Holiday Fair’s dates for 2019 are December 7-23. Expect an elegant Christmas market, a Holly Jolly Midway and Polar Point Bar to shiver away in with your nearest and dearest.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: An artisan village, an ice rink and fire pits. Can you get more festive than that?
Courtney’s expert tip: This is a Christmas hot spot, so of course, Santa has been invited. He is there on weekends between 12pm and 8pm for photos.
If you can’t remember the last time you felt the Christmas spirit, then put your bells on and get thee to the Toronto Christmas Market. From life sized gingerbread houses for children to a variety of beer and mulled wine gardens, you will feel warm and cozy in your heart even if the rest of your extremities are a tad chilly. It is ranked as one of the top ten Christmas markets in the world. Stand by roaring fire pits, marvel at the sparkling lights and tap your toes to nostalgic music sung by the Candy Cane Carollers. Now there will be no pressure on your family – you will have already had a very merry Christmas.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A one month street festival dedicated to the tradition and romance of Christmas.
Courtney’s expert tip: Not surprisingly, Santa is there. Santa’s hours typically go from 2pm, but do check their website for his exact whereabouts. He is a busy man.
November 22-January 5 the CNE hosts the Aurora Winter Festival and replaces any “Bah humbugs” with a rampant case of the “Fa la las.” Expect carnival rides aglow with Christmas lights, a full market abrim with gifts that even Amazon doesn’t have, and a heated Entertainment tent that will provide holiday entertainment (and mulled wine to boot). Little kids will enjoy Storytime with Santa and the whole family can get crafty making holiday gifts or sending letters via a magical mailbox that gets straight to Santa. Spot some friendly Yetis at the Yeti cave and frolic through a whimsical forest…because what else is December for but to frolic through a forest? Download their app to make your visit super easy, staying on top of scheduled events and even getting a chance to book your Santa visit.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A giant playground of winter wonderland will help you to forget your contentious relationship with snow and ice. Almost.
Courtney’s expert tip: Find your way to Candy Cane Lane to check out some giant candy cane installations.