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People skating on the outdoor rink at Nathan Phillips Square is one way to celebrate Christmas in Canada.
People outdoor skating at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto.

Christmas is one of the biggest holidays in the world. Billions of people around the globe celebrate Christmas in over 160 countries. Canada, especially, is known for its extravagant celebrations that start well before Christmas. As a newcomer, it is a good idea to know some common seasonal traditions, Christmas festivals, and Christmas markets you can discover in Canada. That way, you can join the festivities with confidence! 

What is Christmas Like in Canada?

Like many other countries around the world, Canadians celebrate Christmas day on December 25, each year. However, there are many things that make a Canadian Christmas unique. Canada is home to people from many different backgrounds. Each brings their culture and traditions to Canada with them. As a result, Canadian Christmas traditions are a unique mix of different traditions from around the world.

Common Christmas Traditions in Canada

One thing you will notice about Canadians is that they will usually not wish you a “Merry Christmas”. Instead, they like to say, “Happy Holidays”. This is because they are mindful of the people that do not celebrate Christmas. Saying “Happy Holidays”, encompasses all the celebrations that take place during this time, like New Year’s Day, Hanukkah, and yes, Christmas and it’s inclusive of other faiths.

Another common tradition that has emerged in recent years is the nature of how Canadians celebrate Christmas. Christmas is originally a Christian holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. However, not all Canadians that celebrate Christmas are Christians. Because of this, Christmas has become more of a secular family holiday.

This new tradition of treating Christmas as a secular holiday is great for newcomers. This way, you don’t need to be Christian to join in on the holiday cheer. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Christmas lights and decorations become a common sight. Christmas trees, reindeer, holiday gifts, and snowmen are a few examples of decorations you might see around your neighbourhood. Red and green are the two Christmas colours so those are a common sight leading up to Christmas.

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Top Christmas Festivals and Christmas Markets in Canada

Canada is well-known for its extravagant Christmas festivals and markets. No matter what city you visit, you are sure to see the streets lined with Christmas lights and decorations. Let’s take a look at some of the best festivals and Christmas markets that Canada has to offer.

City Hall, Toronto, Cavalcade of Lights

Cavalcade of Lights – Toronto, Ontario

Cavalcade of Lights is a huge Christmas festival that takes place in the heart of Toronto. Lasting more than a month, this festival lights up Nathan Phillips square and transforms it into a Christmas wonderland. This festival is full of Christmas-themed activities like ice skating and is lined with Christmas trees, lights, and ice sculptures. Cavalcade of Lights is sure to get you feeling festive in no time!

Distillery Winter Village – Toronto, Ontario

Toronto’s Distillery Winter Village is the biggest, and arguably the liveliest Christmas market in Canada. Located in the historic Distillery District of Downtown Toronto, the market is estimated to receive almost 700,000 visitors each year! The Distillery Winter Village runs all throughout the month of December and ends on New Year’s Eve. It is important to note that parking is tough to find near the Distillery District of Toronto. This makes Toronto’s public transit system a better alternative for getting to the market.

Light up the Square – Mississauga, Ontario

Talking about Toronto, there is a similar event in the nearby city of Mississauga called Light up the Square. This event takes place in Celebration Square, which is located in the heart of the city. You will be able to enjoy activities such as ice skating, eating from food trucks, and admiring the dazzling display of lights.

Christkindl Market – Kitchener, Ontario

The Christkindl Market in Kitchener is one of the first Christmas Markets in Canada. The Christkindl Market lights up the heart of Kitchener every December. The market has anything and everything Christmas, with a touch of German culture at every corner. The market is based around a German theme, even having a German name. Christkindl Market is designed to look like a Christmas market straight from Germany. This is because Christmas markets originated in Germany and the country is also credited with having some of the best Christmas markets in the world. The Christkindl Market strives to recreate some of those markets while maintaining Canadian Christmas traditions throughout.

Ottawa Christmas Market – Ottawa, Ontario

This next Christmas Market brings us to Canada’s capital; Ottawa. Every year, the Ottawa Christmas Market transforms Lansdowne Park into a vibrant Christmas wonderland. The already-spirited Lansdowne Park, which overlooks the Rideau Canal, provides the perfect festive atmosphere for a Christmas market. The Ottawa Christmas Market is full of holiday lights, decorations, and, of course, holiday shopping. From food and drinks to music and even special Christmas activities, the market has something for everyone. 

Candy Cane Lane – Edmonton, Alberta

Moving on to the prairies, let’s take a look at a popular festival that takes place in Edmonton, Alberta. Every Christmas, a street known as Candy Cane Lane comes to life with Christmas lights, decorations, and people everywhere. Since the street is very crowded with cars, it is a good idea to get around on foot rather than by car.

ZOOLIGHTS – Calgary Alberta

Going back to Alberta, there is another great winter festival that takes place every winter in Calgary. From mid-November to early January each year, the Calgary Zoo transforms into a winter wonderland. Known as ZOOLIGHTS, this event makes for a great way to spend time with your family and friends. Zoolights has many unique activities you won’t find elsewhere so make sure to check it out if you happen to be in Calgary during winter.

Banff Christmas Market – Banff, Alberta

Banff is a 90-minute drive west of Calgary, Alberta, and is one of Canada’s most scenic national parks, and year-round tourist destinations. This makes Banff a great spot for a Christmas market. Banff Christmas Market gives visitors a unique experience that they would not have found otherwise. Most Christmas markets are located at the heart of cities or in suburban areas. This makes most Christmas markets feel urbanized. The Banff Christmas Market, however, is anything but that. The market has a rural, countryside feel to it that offers a unique experience to city dwellers. 

Canad Inns Winter Wonderland – Winnipeg, Manitoba

Canad Inns Winter Wonderland is a lively Christmas festival that lasts throughout December. This festival offers a 2.5 km ride through Red River Exhibition Park. During the ride, you will get to admire all sorts of Winter-themed light displays. This festival is a great way to join in on the holiday cheer without having to go outside. After all, Winnipeg is known to have one of the chilliest winters in Canada. Read more: What to Know About Living in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Capilano Suspension Bridge at Christmas

Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge – Vancouver, British Columbia

Visiting the Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge is a truly unique experience. Every year in late November, the Capilano Suspension Bridge lights up with dazzling light displays and lasts all the way till Christmas day. Even without the lights, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is a popular destination for millions of tourists. The bridge is 140 meters long and hangs 70 meters above the Capilano River. When the whole place lights up in December, it is a truly magnificent sight.

If none of the Christmas festivals or markets mentioned take place in your city, then ask your friends for local recommendations. There is a good chance a neighbour or a relative already living in the city knows about some festivals. Every Canadian city has its own unique Christmas traditions. No matter what city you live in there will probably be a Christmas celebration nearby. 

It is a good idea to learn some common Canadian holiday traditions. It will help you fit right in and enjoy the holiday season with your new Canadian friends. Being aware of the Christmas festivals taking place in your city will guarantee you don’t sit bored at home during the holiday season.