Vancouver holiday guide: Christmas traditions and festive events for all ages

November 9, 2016

by Jessica Napier

Whether you prefer the old-tyme charm of an authentic German Christmas market or the sparkling modern spectacle of twinkling lights, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year here in Vancouver. The city comes alive for the 2017 holiday season with Christmas markets, family-friendly activities, magical mountaintop adventures and delightful stage performances. These enchanting holiday events in Vancouver are sure to put you in the festive spirit. [Photo courtesy of Grouse Mountain]

Vancouver holiday guide: Christmas traditions and festive events for all ages

Christmas markets

Nothing gets you feeling merry and bright quite like a warm mug of glühwein under the stars. Back again for its eighth season, the Vancouver Christmas Market is a favourite holiday outing among urban condo-dwellers looking for a taste of folksy European tradition. For 2017, the market is returning to its waterfront site at Jack Poole Plaza from November 22nd to December 24th. Be sure to bring your appetite to snack on poffertjes (deliciously doughy Dutch mini-pancakes), hearty Austrian-style goulash, stollen (German fruitcake) and many more authentic European sweet and savoury goodies. Live music and performers are on hand to entertain, while the charming craft market is a great place to find stocking stuffers and Secret Santa gifts such as handcrafted glass ornaments, artisanal soaps, German-made nutcrackers and novelty Christmas sweaters.

Yaletown will transform into a winter wonderland on Saturday November 25th as a host of local businesses get in the festive spirit for the neighbourhood’s annual CandyTown street party. To kick off the Christmas season, a cast of enchanted characters (including Santa and a beautiful Ice Queen) will join visiting food truck vendors, artisans, street performers and Yaletown business owners along Mainland Street for the free outdoor holiday festival. Expect ice sculptures, live music, horse-drawn carriage rides and wintertime food and drink specials – rumour has it the Opus Hotel will even be serving up candy cane martinis in honour of the event.

It wouldn't be the holiday season without attending some local festive craft fairs. Stock up on handmade gifts and stocking stuffers at the Scandinavian Craft Fair in Burnaby on November 26th, the Tsleil Waututh Nation Christmas Craft Fair in North Van on December 2nd, the Kitsilano Winter Market (also on December 2nd) or the Make It! Holiday Show at the PNE from December 7-10. Also, new this year is the Weirdos Holiday Market (featuring unusual gifts like mounted insects and taxidermy) at Betamax Art Studios from December 16-17.

Family-friendly activities

All aboard! The Bright Nights Christmas Train has been chugging through Stanley Park since 1998, taking young (and young-at-heart) riders through a dreamlike tour of the park. The scenic route is alight with millions of flickering lights and includes live performers and captivating Christmas-themed displays along the way. Tickets are available from November 30th to January 6th and you can choo-choo-choose to ride the matinee train (a great daytime option for little ones) or the night train, which runs until 11 pm on weekends.

Bundle your kids in their coziest sweaters, grab a hot chocolate for the road and stake your claim on a patch of pavement to catch a glimpse of the big guy in red during the Santa Claus Parade on Sunday December 3rd. Now in its 14th year, the annual Christmastime procession starts at noon in the West End and dances down West Georgia through the downtown core. The wintertime parade draws more than 300,000 spectators and features marching bands, colourful cartoon characters, dressed-up parade floats and the star of the show himself of course, old Saint Nick.

Outdoorsy outings

You might not be able to get to the North Pole this Christmas, but Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver feels pretty darn close. The resort’s annual Peak of Christmas celebration runs from November 24th to January 7th, and would warm the heart of any Grinch in your family. Enjoy breakfast with Santa and his elves in his mountaintop workshop, get up close and personal with live reindeer, glide across a frozen pond, watch classic Christmas movies, hum along with strolling carollers and snowshoe along snowy forest trails guided by a canopy of twinkling lights overhead.

Want to see the world’s tallest living Christmas tree all lit up? Treetop adventures and glittering light displays are a great reason to visit Capilano Suspension Bridge Park during the holiday season. The entire enchanted forest – including the Cliffwalk and the 450-foot-long suspension bridge – will be aglow with hundreds of thousands of glittering lights during the annual Canyon Lights display from November 23rd to January 28th. Live music, Christmas crafts and gingerbread cookie decorating round out the family-friendly fun.

Holiday shows and performances

A classic holiday performance cherished by audiences of all ages, Ballet BC's The Nutcracker takes the stage at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre from December 28-30. Whether you’re seeing it for the first or fiftieth time, the fantastical story of Clara, her Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy is sure to dazzle. Performed by the Alberta Ballet, this particular retelling will enthral audiences both young and old.

A Traditional Christmas, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s annual Christmas concert, has been a winter tradition among music lovers for more than 20 years. Long-time host Christopher Gaze and the VSO’s conductor William Rowson will take audiences on a musical journey with traditional hymns and Christmas carols between December 8-17. The repertoire also features a handful of sing-along songs, including Deck the Halls, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald.

And if the Yuletide season has you feeling frazzled, you might be in need of a little comedic relief. The Arts Club Theatre Company's The Day Before Christmas is a disastrous holiday romp. Heartfelt and hilarious (and entirely relatable), this slapstick performance is sure to lighten your mood and put you in the festive spirit. Catch the show on stage at the BMO Theatre Centre from November 16th to December 24th.

From Santa sightings and twinkling lights to romantic snowshoe trails and sing-along musical performances, holiday magic is everywhere you look in Vancouver during the festive season. Grab your near-and-dear ones and prepare to be enchanted.

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