A bohemian solstice carnival, a Christmas cocktail cruise and nine other festive things to do this holiday season
A bohemian winter solstice fest in Kensington Market
Red Pepper Spectacle Arts’ annual fest celebrates the longest night of the year with a parade, puppet shows and lantern making. Inspired by street performers, circus clowns and commedia dell’arte, the 26-year-old event runs deep into the night and features enough fire-spinners and torch jugglers to be a miniature Burning Man. Monday, December 21. FREE. Kensington Market, Augusta Ave., redpepperspectacle.wordpress.com.
A worst-dressed Christmas cocktail cruise
If you’re looking for the height of festive fashion, avoid this Christmas cruise like it’s the Grinch. For two hours on the Northern Spirit, attendees will have no escape from every manner of knitted nightmare: pom pom–adorned Christmas tree sweaters, scary Santas and other things that have no business being worn on the human body. We assume you’ll be hitting the cash bar, poutine station and dance floor to keep your mind off the horror. Friday, December 18. $39.95. Mariposa Cruises, 207 Queens Quay W., mariposacruises.com.
Three seasonal Stars concerts
The sentimental Toronto rockers have promised “Christmas-themed surprises” at this string of celebratory shows to mark the 10th anniversary of their melancholic magnum opus, Set Yourself on Fire, the album that launched the band to underground acclaim and beyond. If getting nostalgic about an album about nostalgia seems too meta, these three shows will also include songs from their new EP, Lost and Found. Thursday, December 17 to Saturday, December 19. $30. Phoenix Concert Theatre, 410 Sherbourne St., ticketmaster.com.
A bonanza of free holiday films
The holidays have put the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in a giving mood. In the week before Christmas, the theatre’s screening nine festive films for free. The line-up includes age-old classics, including White Christmas, A Christmas Story and Gremlins; more modern hits like Elf and Love Actually; as well as quote-along paid screenings of Home Alone and Die Hard. Friday, December 18 to Wednesday, December 23. Most films FREE (Die Hard and Home Alone $9.73). Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor St. W., bloorcinema.com.
A kooky Christmas tale from a Canadian immigrant
Leila, the bearded, hijab-clad alter ego of Toronto performer Izad Etemadi, is the self-described Fresh Queen of Tehran. She rose to prominence in Love With Leila, which had a handful of Canadian Fringe fests in stitches and led to a stint off-Broadway. Now she’s headed back home for a campy Christmas performance, A Very Leila Christmas. The plot: on Leila’s first Christmas morning in Canada, Santa’s left no presents under her tree, so she decides to track down St. Nick himself at the North Pole. Thursday, December 10 to Sunday, December 13. $20. The Box, 89 Niagara St., leilachristmasto.eventbrite.ca.
The (Nerd) Nite before Christmas
Up first in this two-part holiday lecture by and for self-described geeks: Nerd Nite Toronto founder Virve Aljas deconstructs the history of toys. Then, Hamilton hobbyist Jason Allen guides audiences through the backstory and science of apple cider, complete with a hard-cider home-brewing demo. A side room will be stocked with dorky Christmas gifts (e.g., Death Star bath bombs) for the nerd in your life. Thursday, December 17. $10. Tranzac, 292 Brunswick Ave., toronto.nerdnite.com.
A modern take on Jesus Christ Superstar
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s epic rock opera is about Jesus’ death, not his birth, but the season still seems right for a biblical blockbuster. The Lower Ossington Theatre’s adaptation is set in the present but preserves the source material’s hippie vibes: the naïve flower children who follow the cultish Christ, the flowing hair and the psychedelic soundtrack. To Sunday, January 17. $50–$60. Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave., lowerossingtontheatre.com.
A Trans-Siberian Orchestra arena-rock spectacle
The symphonic prog rockers, like Santa, seem to exist only in December. Their rock operas, such as Christmas Eve and Other Stories, The Lost Christmas Eve and this, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, are seasonal spectacles, their sound a combination of epic orchestral arrangements and 1970s classic rock, the show a flash of pyrotechnics, lasers and projections. Wednesday, December 23. $34.50–$78. Air Canada Centre, 40 Bay St., ticketmaster.com.
A Christmas circus from the other TSO
Old-school circus acts meet older-still carols in this inventive take on holiday entertainment, where the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas tunes accompany jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, strongmen, contortionists, magicians and other performers from Cirque de la Symphonie. During intermission, kids can learn a few tricks of their own through free art activities organized by the Avenue Road Arts School. Sunday, December 13. $22.50–$68.25. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St., tso.ca.
A Jane Austen supper party
Everything at this Christmas feast is precisely as Jane Austen would have experienced it. There’s the regal Georgian décor, the era-appropriate music and the candlelit dinner dishes: roast goose, potted salmon, mincemeat tarts and eggs à la tripe. Accordingly, the organizers—the York Regency Society and Jane Austen Dancing club—would probably appreciate it if you refrained from Instagramming the food. Gowns are available for rent should your closet not include any 19th-century attire. Tickets must be purchased by Friday, December 11. Friday, December 18. $45. Montgomery’s Inn, 4709 Dundas St. W., danceweavers.ca.
A bold, barefoot Messiah
Of the many Messiahs hallelujahing their way through the city this holiday season, the treatment from the cheeky Against the Grain Theatre troupe is the most original: barefoot, costumed, choreographed, memorized and occasionally even funny (listen for bleating in the “All We Like Sheep” chorus). Wednesday, December 16 to Saturday, December 19. $25–$79.50. Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queens Quay W., againstthegraintheatre.com.
An earlier version of this post indicated Lower Ossington Theatre's production of Jesus Christ Superstar would run until December 27. It has since been extended until January 17.