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Christmas in Canada: A Festivus Approach

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?

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.

    Canyon Lights, Capilano Suspension Bridge, North Vancouver, BC
    Canyon Lights, Capilano Suspension Bridge, North Vancouver, BC
  • 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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