In a country that prides itself on tolerance and diversity, even using the word “Christmas” makes some Canadians skittish.
Political correctness be damned: December 25 is without doubt the nation’s most anticipated holiday, a jewel of light, hope and good cheer in an otherwise long, dark and unadorned season.
I have Jewish friends who never miss a seasonal performance of Handel’s Messiah, Muslim friends who decorate spectacular Christmas trees, and Buddhist friends who exchange presents. Who could be offended by this collective joy?
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So let me be the first to wish you a hearty “Merry Christmas!” and offer these suggestions for how to enjoy the best of the Canadian holiday season in a manner that even Seinfeld‘s Festivus-loving gang could endorse:
- Let there be light: It’s a little dark North of 49 in the winter, so Canada has become really good at light shows. Come December, you’ll find illumination extravaganzas across the country–family-friendly spectacles often mounted as fund-raisers for local non-profits. My favourites include Vancouver’s Festival of Lights and Canyon Lights; Victoria’s Magic of Christmas; Calgary’s ZooLights; and Toronto’s Trail of Lights.
- Up your culture quotient: In communities large and small you’re guaranteed to find some kind of uplifting seasonal cultural fare: a sing-along Messiah; a production of The Nutcracker ballet; a bring-the-whole-family musical or pantomime. (Ticketmaster Canada, provincial tourism web sites and local arts magazines such as Vancouver’s Georgia Straight and Toronto Life are a good place to start the search.) But keep an eye out too for unique local events such as the St. John’s Mummers Festival in Newfoundland.
- Head for the hills: Christmas + snow = skiing, boarding, tubing, snowshoeing and other powdery pleasures. Hunker down for a week in a ski hub like Whistler, BC or Banff, AB, or enjoy a more budget-friendly day-trip up a local backyard hill such as Vancouver’s Cypress or Vernon’s Silver Star. A day with friends and family playing in the snow–or skating on Ottawa‘s Rideau Canal or Winnipeg’s Red and Assinibone rivers–is about as Canadian as Christmas gets.
- Make like a bear: Of course if freezing your butt off doesn’t appeal, you could always hibernate in style. During the holidays, Canadian hotels and tourism web sites reliably feature value-added packages. (They change all the time and I include good deals under the Canada Travel News heading here and on the WhyGoCanada Facebook page as I come across them. ) Look for goodies such as spa, shopping and dining credits; fuel rebates; free long-term parking; ski passes and other perks.
- Feast: If there was ever an excuse to over-indulge, Christmas is it. Be warned that it’s hard to find a restaurant that stays open on Christmas Day–Dec. 25 is the one day in the calendar when Canada comes to a virtual stand-still. (Even hotels can’t be counted on to have their kitchens running at full steam.) But before and after the Big Day, many urban chefs court office parties, starry-eyed couples, and family reunions with indulgent seasonal menus, including kick-ass brunches. Knock yourself out with good food, but remember Canada’s strict drunk-driving rules and go easy on the booze. Or better yet, take the elevator home…
What have I missed? Please leave a comment below and let me know your favourite ways to mark Christmas in Canada.
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