by Erica Ly

So when is it “appropriate” to start celebrating Christmas? November? December 24th? All-year round?

As the Santa Claus Parade took place on November 20th on the streets of downtown Toronto, the signs are spreading around the city to start getting out the Christmas trees and to begin playing festive music. Among those who celebrate Christmas, there is a distinct divide between the “Grinches/Scrooges/Bah Humbugs” who only deem it acceptable to begin celebrating on December 24th, followed by a prompt end to the festivities on the 26th, and the Buddy the Elves” who basically play Christmas music randomly throughout the year but take it to a new level once December arrives (or when Halloween ends).


From October 31st…


dancing pumpkin

… to November 1st.

The conclusion to be drawn from the nicknames they’ve given each other is that these two groups will never see eye-to-eye on the “perfect” day to begin the festivities. Regardless of which group you may be in, with exams leaving the majority of the student population stressed and depressed, what better way to instantly raise morale than by visiting downtown’s top seven winter holiday stops?


7. Hudson’s Bay – Christmas Window: Enchanted Forest

In November, singer Mariah Carey visited Toronto to share holiday favourites like “All I Want for Christmas is You” during the grand unveiling of The Bay’s Christmas window on Queen Street West and Yonge Street. Torontonians eagerly await the event every year and the streets were packed.

This year, the focus of the display was shifted from the classic Santa’s workshop to Canadian animals in their “Enchanted Forest”. Twenty-nine animatronics and a design/construction project that took 35,000 hours staring in March display the passion of talented individuals hoping to spread the holiday cheer, even if you are just passing by.


6. Nathan Phillips Square – Cavalcade of Lights: Lighting Displays

Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto
Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto
Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto

In late November every year, Nathan Phillips Square becomes the venue for a spectacular show of lights and vivid musical performance. While the initial lighting ceremony of the official Toronto Christmas tree, plus a firework display, took place on November 26th (mark your calendar for next year!), the gorgeous light displays will be there all December long. If you only have a couple of minutes to spare, drop by and have a stroll through Nathan Phillips Square!


5. Casa Loma 

Casa Loma

(Image source: Casa Loma)

Casa Loma

(Image source: Casa Loma)

Casa Loma

(Image source: Casa Loma)

Casa Loma

(Image source: Casa Loma)

Built between 1911 and 1914 as a residence for a wealthy financier, this Gothic Revival castle is a real-life version of what you’d see in Beauty and the Beast. Visit during December for a holiday take on the classic castle features: secret-passages-behind-bookshelves, battlements, horse stables, a huge traditional pipe organ, a theatre, acres of gardens with luxurious fountains, 98 spacious rooms and a massive library.

During the holiday season, Casa Loma also plans activities and performances for all ages.


4. Harbourfront Centre – Natrel Ice Rink

For those who enjoy skating or want to learn, Harbourfront offers a rink that wins for the most scenic view. Located right next to Lake Ontario, this ice rink is a very busy destination on the coldest days and nights of winter. It has a rink-side restaurant with hot treats and drinks, DJ Skate nights, learn-to-skate events, skate rentals (), and heated indoor change rooms with washrooms and lockers – and to top it all off, admission is completely free!

PRO-TIP: Want to see before you get there if the rink is too packed? Check out the live webcams that show the rink all day.


3. Four Seasons Centre – The Nutcracker

The National Ballet of Canada’s The Nutcracker performance has become part of the Christmas traditions of many Canadian families (mine included). Featuring a live orchestra and choir, perfect choreography that leaves children suddenly wanting to pursue ballet, breathtaking costumes, humour and elegance, this is a show that keeps you enthralled from start to finish.

Dubbed “the best Nutcracker on the planet”, by the Globe and Mail, this is not a program that goes unnoticed by the public. For the artistically inclined who do not feel that the holiday season is complete without a high-class, authentic Tchaikovsky classical adaptation of the story, this is the performance for you. Runs from December 10th to December 31st. 


2. Nathan Phillips Square – Holiday Fair


The Holiday Fair is brand-new for 2016, and is open December 8th to 23rd.

Starting this year, we’re likely seeing the start of a new tradition, the Holiday Fair at Nathan Phillips Square. Inspired by traditional European Christmas markets, this is an event that promises something for everyone: ice skating, a midway, gourmet food and light snacks, hand-crafted goods, an ice bar, performers, and much more. This new event is being eagerly anticipated, so don’t miss out!


1. Distillery District – Toronto Christmas Market

Open from November 18th to December 22nd, the Distillery District’s Toronto Christmas Market knows how to “do Christmas” on a grand scale.

It features a glimmering 52-foot tree, a massive variety of great eats from mouthwatering poutines to delicious desserts, a beer garden, vendors selling beautiful ornaments and other creative gifts, an illuminated Ferris wheel that takes you up into the night sky and a spectacular light show everywhere you go. And an appearance from Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus – c’mon, what are you waiting for?

PRO TIP: The market is closed on Mondays. Admission is free Tuesday until 5 pm on Friday, after which it’s for the rest of the weekend. It’s pretty much always busy, but congestion is typically heaviest on the weekends.   

You may not associate Christmas with Toronto, but perhaps with somewhere grander in Europe like Paris or Berlin – but it’s clear that Toronto has just as much to offer (and it’s a lot cheaper to get to…). Have you already visited any of these top Christmas spots in Toronto? Or maybe you have other suggestions? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments!