Toronto’s 8 Best Holiday Traditions

Toronto’s 8 Best Holiday Traditions

Toronto’s holiday traditions are deeply entrenched into our collective psyche—so much so that we don’t think twice about some of the weirder things we do (like jumping into an icy lake on New Years day). But whether you’re an avid polar bear dipper, a massive Nutcracker fan or simply someone who likes to hibernate and binge-watch Netflix, these annual activities are guaranteed to get even the Grinchiest of Torontonians into the festive spirit.
 

Image: Flickr/Dan Gaken Image: Flickr/Dan Gaken
 
1. Visit the Toronto Christmas Market

Every year, The Distillery District transforms into a European-style holiday market with beer gardens, a massive Christmas tree and costumed carolers. At the miniature booths, visitors can pick up traditional German toys, upcycled gifts and fill their tummies with a range of tasty snacks like Weinerschnitzel sandwiches, Quebec poutine and oozing raclette cheese. Best of all, piping-hot wood-burning fire pits that surround the space make sipping on a cold beer a little cozier. Until Dec. 22. Torontochristmasmarket.com
 

Image: Flickr/Benson Kua Image: Flickr/Benson Kua
 
2. Skate at Nathan Philips Square

There’s something about the holidays that makes Toronto residents suddenly decide to spontaneously throw on their trusty pair of decades-old skates for an annual glide—and, more often than not, an annual wipe out. Nathan Philips Square, with its rows of overhead twinkling lights, is always the most festive of local rinks, where couples skate around holding hands, kids careen through crowds uncontrollably and grownups cheekily smuggle in specialty coffees. Cityrinks.ca
 

Photograph courtesy of HBC Photograph courtesy of HBC
 
3. Admire Hudson’s Bay’s Holiday Windows

Shopping for all your family and friends (not to mention in-laws) during the holidays can be incredibly taxing. But somehow ogling the Bay’s elaborate windows always make emptying your wallets slightly less excruciating. This year’s enchanted forest theme portrays woodland creatures hibernating and frolicking in the snow. There’s also the bonus of Saks Fifth Avenue’s windows: even if you can’t afford the designer gear inside, the over-the-top candyland-inspired scenes are worth a gander. 176 Yonge St., 416-861-9111, thebay.com
 

Image: Flickr/Santoshsurneni photography Image: Flickr/Santoshsurneni photography
 
4. Attend the Cavalcade of Lights

Of all the city’s holiday traditions, the Cavalcade of Lights is the most official—and also the most majestic. The event turns 50 this year, so the extravaganza is guaranteed to be extra-special, and will include a Choir!Choir!Choir! sing-a-long, a massive DJ-led skating party and a live concert with artists like Juno-winning Kiran Ahluwalia (all in addition to the ceremonial tree lighting). To top it all off, even the night skies get into the sparkling holiday spirit with a spectacular fireworks show. Nov. 26. Nathan Philips Square, Toronto.ca
 

Photograph courtesy of OOAKS Photograph courtesy of OOAKS
 
5. Shop the One of a Kind Show

Local shoppers who play their cards right should never have to enter a mall during the month of December. That’s because for two weekends every winter, the One of a Kind Show, a massive festival devoted to handmade goods, fills the Exhibition Place with adorable, personalized gifts from over 800 Canadian artisans (finds that blow any kind of mass-produced prezzie out of the water). It’s always well-worth the $13 ticket to get all your holiday shopping out of the way—and dole out the most thoughtful gifts come Christmas or Hanukkah. Nov. 24—Dec. 4. 100 Princes Blvd., oneofakindshow.com
 

Image: Flickr/Moodycamera Photography Image: Flickr/Moodycamera Photography
 
6. Celebrate the New Year with a polar dip

For a certain group of brave, cold-blooded Toronto residents, ringing in the new year means stripping down to their bathers and hopping into icy Lake Ontario for the city’s annual polar bear dip. (For other, more reasonable folk, it means nursing a hangover from the comfort of their beds.) Wacky costumes, accessories or leftover Santa hats are, of course, always encouraged to distract from the temperatures. Jan. 1. Sunnyside Beach, torontopolarbear.com
 

Image: Flickr/We travel the world Image: Flickr/We travel the world
 
7. Binge-watch classic flicks

Arguably the best holiday tradition of them all is the time in between Christmas and New Years when it’s socially acceptable to do nothing except watch movies all day. To at least get you off the couch (and avoid the Love Actually reruns on TV), the Bell Lightbox is showing a series of classic flicks all throughout December. The festively averse can take in movies like The Shining, Star Trek and Alien, while anyone looking for traditionally uplifting stories can catch E.T., The Sound of Music or Hugo. 350 King St. W., tiff.net
 

Image: Flickr/Andre Vandal Image: Flickr/Andre Vandal
 
8. Go see the Nutcracker

Even Torontonians who aren’t regulars at the theatre, opera or symphony get dressed up to see the Nutcracker every holiday. The National Ballet’s annual production at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts—with elaborate costumes, magical set displays and dreamy dancing—never fails to provide audience members with a healthy dose of feel-good cheer. Dec. 10—31. 145 Queen St. W., national.ballet.ca