THESE TORONTO HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES, EVENTS AND PERFORMANCES WILL HELP YOU TO CELEBRATE THE SEASON WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK
‘Tis the time of year for gift giving and get-togethers—which is great! But it can also be quite expensive. Fortunately, this city still offers ample entertainment for the budget-conscious among us. There’s no excuse not to revel in the spirit of the season, thanks to these 25 holiday things to do in Toronto for $25 or less.
Family Festivals & Gatherings
CAVALCADE OF LIGHTS
NOVEMBER 28 Don’t miss the lighting of Toronto’s official Christmas tree, which takes place in front of City Hall. Typically standing about 60 feet tall, the white spruce is decorated with approximately 12,500 LED lights and 700 individual ornaments. A family-friendly skating party kicks off the festivities at 6 p.m., followed by performances from a juggler/fire eater and an aerial hoop artist, as well as musical acts Sloan and the Nathaniel Dett Chorale. A spectacular fireworks display caps off the light show. (The tree remains lit nightly throughout the holiday season.)
Nathan Phillips Square, free; toronto.ca/specialevents
WATERFRONT SPECTACLE OF LIGHTS
NOVEMBER 28 TO JANUARY 1 Head to the the city’s downtown harbourfront to view four oversized “Spectacle of Lights” displays: a canopy of animated bulbs in the shape of musical notes at the Toronto Music Garden, as well as illuminated scenes on a tall ship anchored near Amsterdam Bridge, the harbour fire hall and at the Westin Hotel.
Along Queens Quay West, free; waterfrontbia.com
NOVEMBER 14 TO 28 Directly across from the CF Toronto Eaton Centre lies Yonge-Dundas Square—the city’s busiest public hub is a natural spot for erecting a mammoth sculptural tree and an installation of three-dimensional polar bears. Farther north on Yonge Street there’s also an oversized sleigh and reindeer display. On November 28 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Kidzfest takes over the area with a merry-go-round, face painting and live appearances by the Octonauts, as well as princesses and superheroes.
Yonge-Dundas Square, free; wintermagic.ca
VISIT WITH SANTA
NOVEMBER 17 TO DECEMBER 23 Lining up for a posed photo with Santa is so 20th century. At the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, little ones are invited to join Santa in his log cabin for a story reading followed by picture time. (There’s no official photographer; parents are encouraged to bring their own cameras.) Alternatively, kids with special needs can arrange to meet with Sensitive Santa, who sits with smaller groups and endeavours to keep wait times short. That said, a more traditional mall-Santa experience is available at Yorkdale Shopping Centre, which also hosts pet photo sessions from November 22 to 29.
CF Toronto Eaton Centre, $10; cfshops.com/toronto-eaton-centre
Yorkdale Shopping Centre, $22; yorkdale.com
ONE OF A KIND SHOW
NOVEMBER 26 TO DECEMBER 6 The granddaddy of all Toronto artisan expos, the One of a Kind Show’s annual pre-Christmas marketplace boasts more than 800 retailers (including 10 that we particularly love), plus a mix of fashion shows, DIY workshops and cooking demos. The event’s size and scope can be overwhelming, but if you plan in advance, you can come away with thoughtful, high-quality presents for everyone on your gifting list.
Enercare Centre, $7.50 to $15; oneofakindshow.com
TORONTO CHRISTMAS MARKET
NOVEMBER 20 TO DECEMBER 20 A fairly recent but already beloved local tradition, the Distillery District’s annual transformation into an European-style holiday bazaar sees more than three-dozen artisans, craftspeople and international brands setting up outdoor booths with traditional Christmas treats, ornaments and other merchandise. There’s also a performance stage with myriad folk, jazz and pop musicians, plus various activities for children. Don’t forget your camera: the heritage site is dressed to the nines with lights, garlands and an enormous holiday tree.
The Distillery District, free ($5 on weekends); torontochristmasmarket.com
UNION STATION HOLIDAY MARKET
NOVEMBER 30 TO DECEMBER 20 The seasonal shopping experience gets a little easier for travellers and commuters thanks to this diverse showcase at Toronto’s downtown transportation hub. There’s something (locally made) for everyone here—from delicious cookies and treats by Sullivan & Bleeker to unique G Fox & Co. timepieces to beautiful stationery from Sea + Lake Paper Co.
Union Station, free; unionstationholidaymarket.com
THE ST. MICHAEL’S CHOIR SCHOOL CHRISTMAS CONCERT
DECEMBER 5 & 6 The melodious little masters of Toronto’s beloved boys chorus present the 50th edition of their annual holiday concert. This year’s recital boasts carols old and new, plus soaring choral works by such masters as Bach, Schubert and Palestrina.
Massey Hall, $20 to $60; christmasconcert.ca
DECEMBER 7 & 8 Experimental music troupe Soundstreams offers a new way to experience Handel’s familiar oratorio—by stripping it down to a work for four singers, accompanied by guitar and electronics. Thus deconstructed, the piece’s famous movements are stylistically reinterpreted by the vocal quartet.
The Drake Hotel, $15 in advance, $20 at the door; soundstreams.ca
AGAINST THE GRAIN’S MESSIAH
DECEMBER 16 TO 19 Another unorthodox vision of the classical era’s most famous choral work, Against the Grain Theatre’s version is performed by 16 barefoot choristers (and an 18-piece orchestra) and incorporates unique, modern choreography.
Harbourfront Centre Theatre, $25 to $79.50; againstthegraintheatre.com
AN INDIGO CHRISTMAS… SOULFUL MESSIAH
DECEMBER 4 TO 6 A third non-traditional handling of Handel’s work comes courtesy of Toronto dance company Ballet Creole, which teams with the renowned Nathaniel Dett Chorale in a celebratory affair. Inspired by the 1992 gospel and R&B rendition of the Messiah, this edition melds live music with exciting jazz, ballet, tap, Afri-Caribbean and modern dance choreography.
Harbourfront Centre’s Fleck Dance Theatre, $20 to $48; harbourfrontcentre.com
BACH’S CHRISTMAS ORATORIO
DECEMBER 3 TO 6 Of course, the Messiah is not the only holiday-themed composition by a master of classical music. In 1734, Johann Sebastian Bach first presented his six-part Christmas Oratorio, which narrates the story of Jesus’s birth. In Toronto, the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir is perfectly suited to performing this exultant, spirited work.
Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, $25 to $98; tafelmusik.org
A VERY SOULPEPPER CHRISTMAS
DECEMBER 19, 20, 23 & 26 Toronto’s acclaimed artist-run theatre company invites families to celebrate the season with heartwarming stories and songs, performed by Mike Ross and members of the Soulpepper ensemble.
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, $22 to $60; soulpepper.ca
KRAMPUS: THE ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS CURMUDGEON
DECEMBER 12 TO JANUARY 3 In certain parts of Europe, Krampus is the yin to jolly Saint Nicholas’s yang—a folkloric figure that punishes misbehaving children at Christmastime. Solar Stage Theatre’s kid-friendly version of the character is less explicitly devilish; instead he’s a bit of a cranky-pants who’s lost confidence in his ability to scare naughty children straight.
The Madison Centre (4950 Yonge St.), $16; solarstage.on.ca
THE NAUGHTY LISTERS
DECEMBER 19 TO JANUARY 1 Speaking of munchkins running afoul of the holiday season, The Second City’s new family-focused yuletide offering spins a hilarious yarn about pre-Christmas chaos incited by a rogue elf—and Santa’s attempts to fix things with the help of a group of wayward youth.
The Second City, $14; secondcity.com
DECEMBER 4 TO 18 Dubbed “A very special holiday episode of a totally improvised sitcom,” Bad Dog Theatre Company’s cheeky, semi-meta, unscripted show recruits some of Toronto’s top improv comics to tell of a family’s search for the true meaning of what can often be a strange, stressful and silly season.
Bad Dog Comedy Theatre (875 Bloor St. W.), $10 to $12; baddogtheatre.com
THE MAGICAL TOYLAND
DECEMBER 5 TO 29 On weekends in December, Toronto’s historic Casa Loma becomes an enchanted holiday paradise for the entire family. The manor hosts all manner of seasonal fun, including a pair of magic shows, arts-and-crafts activities, cookie decorating and more. Visitors can also embark on a castle-wide scavenger hunt, listen to wandering Christmas carolers and even enjoy a sit-down with Santa.
Casa Loma, $17 to $21; casaloma.ca
CHRISTMAS AT TORONTO’S HERITAGE MUSEUMS
NOVEMBER 21 TO JANUARY 3 Visiting some of the city’s historic museums affords an inexpensive, educational and often interactive way to see how the holiday season was celebrated in the Toronto of years past. Both Mackenzie House and High Park’s Colborne Lodge, for example, celebrate Christmas as the Victorians did—with mulled cider, natural decorations and, at the former, the opportunity to write to Santa using a card made on a circa-1845 printing press. A tour of the Spadina Museum offers a slight seasonal update: the midtown manor has been decorated in the style of the “Roaring Twenties.” Fort York also gets into the holiday spirit with a Frost Fair (December 5 & 6) featuring artisans selling unique heritage-inspired gifts.
Various venues and prices (starting at $4.25); toronto.ca/museums
CHRISTMAS BY LAMPLIGHT
DECEMBER 5, 12 & 19 Stroll the lamp-illumed streets and candlelit houses of Black Creek Pioneer Village, which immerses itself in the season with carolers and folk-music performers, ornament-making workshops, heritage food samples and more. (For an additional fee, guests can also reserve a seat for a traditional Christmas dinner in the historic brewery restaurant.)
Black Creek Pioneer Village, $24.95 to $80.95; blackcreek.ca
And Even More Holiday Fun
THE 12 TREES OF CHRISTMAS
NOVEMBER 12 TO JANUARY 3 Each year, the city’s foremost institution on ceramics invites acclaimed artists and designers to conceptualize a tree based on a singular theme to differing results. The 27th edition of this annual exhibit, which is curated by architect and designer Dee Dee Eustace, is based on “The joy of creativity,” with contributions from the likes of Liza Giffen and Andrew Mestern of the Stratford Festival, Jennifer Carter of Hermès Canada, Susanne Shaw of Holt Renfrew, photographer Trevor Godinho, and sculptor and installation artist Bruno Billio, among others.
Gardiner Museum, $9 to $15; gardiner12trees.com
SEASONAL WINDOW DISPLAYS
ON NOW Each year, two of the city’s biggest department stores outdo themselves with their seasonal window displays. Months in the making, Holt Renfrew’s fashion-meets-festive arrangements feature high-end looks with winter cheer, as do other displays along the ritzy Bloor Street strip, including Hermès, Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton and Harry Rosen. More quaint scenes are depicted in the animated windows of Hudson Bay’s flagship on Queen Street. Spanning several windows, Santa and his elves are among the star attractions, working away in the workshop complete with miniature toys, elves adorned in coats bearing the retailer’s signature stripes, as well as a family celebrating Christmas at home, complete with a counterpart mouse family.
Holt Renfrew, 50 Bloor St. W., free; holtrenfrew.com
Hudson’s Bay, 176 Yonge St., free; thebay.com
LEGO HOLIDAY BRICKTACULAR
DECEMBER 5 TO 27 Lego lovers of all ages can celebrate the season one brick at a time at Legoland Discovery Centre. Every weekend in December, as well as on Christmas Day, the themed attraction north of Toronto is decked out for the holidays, and hosts Miniland hunts as well as special build sessions for making your own ornaments.
Legoland Discovery Centre, general admission $17.60-$22; legolanddiscoverycentre.ca
NOVEMBER 22 TO MID MARCH Skating is a much-loved Canadian winter tradition, so it’s no surprise that these three public rinks are a favourite spot for a leisurely glide with family, friends or for a solo spin. In the heart of downtown, located across from City Hall and just a block away from the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, Nathan Phillips Square is an easily accessible spot and is particularly pretty at night when the arches are lit. To the east, the outdoor rink at the environmentally conscious Evergreen Brick Works is surrounded by the vestiges of industry, plus trees and shrubs dusted with snow. The Natrel Rink at Harbourfront Centre is the city’s largest. Nestled along the shores of Lake Ontario, it’s particularly lively on Saturday evenings when a DJ spins tunes live.
Nathan Phillips Square, free, skate rentals $5-$10; nathanphillipssquareskaterentals.com
Evergreen Brickworks, free, skate rentals $5; evergreen.ca
Natrel Rink at Harbourfront Centre, free, skate rentals $6-$8; harbourfrontcentre.com
CHRISTMAS FLOWER SHOW
STARTS DECEMBER 6 Named the Garden Event of the Year at the 2015 Canadian Garden Tourism Awards, Allan Gardens‘ seasonal display transforms the conservatory into a festive floral and fauna haven with 40 varieties of poinsettias as well as artfully crafted topiaries. On December 6 at the official grand opening for the holiday greenery display, join Santa Claus and carolers for a cup of hot apple cider, as well as horse and wagon rides.
Allan Gardens Conservatory, free; toronto.ca
THE 12 BEERS OF CHRISTMAS
DECEMBER 12 The Gladstone Hotel‘s always-popular adults-only event sells out quickly, and it’s no wonder: more than a dozen craft breweries pour never-ending steins of beer (well, at least from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.) at this taste-all-you-can event, soundtracked by local DJs and live bands. Participants include Junction Craft Brewery, Mill Street Brewery, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co., Brooklyn Brewery and Sweetgrass Brewing, among others. But the evening doesn’t have to end when the drinks stop—stay on for Shameless Karaoke starting at 10 p.m. and belt out some songs.
Gladstone Hotel, $25; gladstonehotel.com