24 Toronto traditions to try this holiday season

by Doug O’Neill

Toronto’s Yuletide season is jam-packed with holiday food, events and things to do! Here’s our month-long 2017 calendar of popular holiday traditions in Toronto for families and friends on the lead-up to December 25. It just wouldn’t be the festive season in Toronto without a visit to the Hudson’s Bay window displays, or to ogle the lights on City Hall, or enjoy chestnuts roasting on an open fire … Happy holidays! [Photo of Natrel Rink courtesy of Harbourfront Centre]

24 Toronto traditions to try this holiday season

December 1

Holiday Fair in Nathan Phillips Square
This second annual festive fair outside Toronto City Hall includes the popular Holly Jolly Midway, hot tea from Chaiwala Chai, tasty samples from Carla’s Cookie Box, a gift market, snack stands, music, skating on the rink at Nathan Phillips Square. Bonus: City Hall bedeck with colourful lights!

December 2

One of a Kind Show & Sale
Shop for the best in handmade crafts, forward fashion accessories, clothes, foods, décor, art, ceramics, jewellery, furniture and other gift-worthy items created by more than 800 local and international artisans and craftspeople. Plus, there are scheduled seminars, guest speakers and hands-on workshops.

  • When: November 23 to December 3
  • Time: Monday to Saturday: 10 am to 9 pm, Sunday: 10 am to 6 pm, Late Night Shopping on Thursday, Nov. 30: 10 am to 11 pm
  • Where: Enercare Centre
  • Price: Adults: $15, Seniors and Kids: $7.50
  • Buy tickets
  • More information

December 3

Shop at the Evergreen Garden Market
Head to Evergreen Brick Works in the Don Valley to shop for locally farmed, fresh-cut Christmas trees, boughs and wreaths, plus organic food, home decor, books, children’s games and toys, and other in-season products. Enjoy a post-shopping stroll through the Weston Family Quarry Garden. The Evergreen Winter Village opens December 2, with food trucks, hot beverages in the Sipping Container and more.

December 4

Skating on the Natrel Rink
Plan an afternoon or evening of skating with family and friends at the Natrel Rink, on the shores of Lake Ontario at Harbourfront, followed by hot chocolate inside York Quay Centre. In the mood to shake it a little? On Saturdays, you can attend DJ Skate Night – it’s free!

  • When: Open late November through the winter season
  • Where: Natrel Rink
  • Price: Free admission. Skate and helmet rentals available.
  • More information

December 5

Holt Renfrew Holiday Windows on Bloor
The honour for best-dressed windows on Bloor goes to Holt Renfrew who mix vogue and stylish with tradition and sentiment. Beautifully attired mannequins proudly pose in chic Dolce and Gabbana gowns while surrounded by traditional festive touches such as snowflakes and holly – to a welcoming soundtrack of classic Christmas carols.

December 6

Stock up on gingerbread cookies at Mad Batter Bakers
The time is nigh to fill up the cookie jars and gift boxes with delicious soft gingerbread and old-fashioned sugar cookies. This Liberty Village bakery makes cookies (gluten, too!) in all sorts of festive, holiday-themed shapes – teddy bears, ice-skates and Christmas-tree ornaments.

December 7

Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery Historic District
Wander the Victorian-era buildings and cobblestone lanes of the historic Distillery District while shopping for arts, crafts, hand-carved Christmas ornaments, artisanal gift items – not to mention lip-smacking street vendor food and mulled wine. Keep an eye out for roaming carolers in period costumes.

  • When: November 16 to December 23.
  • Schedule: Tuesday to Thursday from 12 pm to 9 pm, Friday: 12 pm to 10 pm, Saturday 10 am to 10 pm, Sunday: 10 am to 9 pm, closed Mondays.
  • Where: Distillery Historic District
  • Price: Free on weekdays, $6 admission Fridays after 5 pm, and all day Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Buy tickets
  • More information

December 8

Spectacle of Lights on Toronto’s Waterfront
Enjoy a visit to the Toronto Music Garden where 39,000 LED lights brighten up the night sky on Toronto’s Waterfront – to the accompaniment of harp music. Don’t miss the other waterfront light displays at The Westin Hotel, the Fire Hall and Amsterdam Bridge at the Harbourfront Centre.

December 9

Christmas by Lamplight at Black Creek Pioneer Village
Explore Black Creek Pioneer Village at night under the glow of lamps, lanterns and candles. Visitors are invited to wander through pioneer homes (decorated with handmade ornaments) and farm buildings (where animals are bedded down for the night) as they enjoy traditional Yuletide music and home-baked goodies.

December 11

150 Years of Canadian Christmas at Casa Loma
Sir Henry Pellatt’s former palatial home, Casa Loma, is a veritable castle in one of the poshest neighbourhoods in Toronto. The designer-savvy decorations in the 60-foot-high Great Hall and the festive trimmings in the stunning marble-floored solarium are wonders to behold during the festive season. The castle is hosting family-friendly activities throughout December, including illusionist Professor Wick and ice skating performers Glisse on Ice. When planning a visit, consider dinner reservations at the new on-site restaurant, BlueBloods Steakhouse.

December 13

Afternoon Tea at the Windsor Arms
Sit down to a pot of tea (from Russian Caravan to Darjeeling) in the French-style lobby tea room at the elegant Windsor Arms Hotel, where guests nosh on scones, cucumber sandwiches, tarts, petits fours and exquisite sweets, elegantly served on three-tiered trays.

December 14

Hudson’s Bay and Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Window Displays
The holiday windows at Yonge and Queen have been a Yuletide tradition for decades in Toronto. There are now two sets of windows to admire: the Hudson’s Bay windows on Queen Street, and the Saks Fifth Avenue windows on Yonge. Both are artful, fantasy-filled creations that inspire all ages.

December 16

It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
The holiday movie classic about a suicidal man (played on the silver screen by Jimmy Stewart) and his savior – a dotty angel-in-waiting – is reproduced as a live 1940s radio broadcast. Patrons become the listening audience for the radio show.

December 18

Casa Loma Canadian Winterland Nights
Casa Loma is being transformed into a winter wonderland just in time for the holidays! The gardens will be alight with dazzling displays, and there will be warm hot cocoa, treats, live performers and more.

December 20

Light up the Beach
The Beaches Boardwalk is brilliantly lit up (thanks to DeClute Real Estate) with more than 80,000 LED bulbs – which are strung from tree to tree along the boardwalk from Leuty Lighthouse to The Balmy Beach Club, transforming the east-end Beaches neighbourhood into a festive winter wonderland.

December 21

12 Trees: Let There Be Light at the Gardiner Museum
The Gardiner Museum hosts its annual designer-decorated tree exhibit in which award-winning designers and decorators create the most stunning Christmas trees. New this year: a disco-ball Christmas tree, a manually-powered holiday tree light show, an animated winter dreamscape and a tree in the form of illuminated cubic blocks.

  • When: November 17, 2017 to January 7, 2018
  • Time: Monday to Thursday: 10 am to 6 pm, Friday: 10 am to 9 pm, Saturday and Sunday: 10 am to 5 pm
  • Where: Gardiner Museum
  • Price: free admission for youth and children, students: $9, seniors: $11, adults: $15
  • Buy tickets
  • More information

December 22

Disney on Ice Reach for the Stars
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy take to the ice in this holiday hit for the entire family. Expect other much-loved Disney characters to join this skating spectacle, such as the beloved Belle and the Beast.

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