Christmas Traditions and Customs in Canada

Christmas in Canada is celebrated in much the same way as it is in other Western countries. December 25th is the official holiday, with many people also taking time off on the afternoon of the 24th - Christmas Eve Day / Christmas Eve and Boxing Day on the 26th.


Of course, Canada is a multicultural country, so many other holiday traditions aside from Christian ones are observed in December and throughout the year. Hanukkah celebrations are widespread in December across, especially in Toronto and Montreal where there are large Jewish populations. 

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    How is Christmas in Canada Celebrated?

    ••• Ottawa at Christmas. Photo courtesy Howard Sandler 1975-2006. All rights reserved.

    Christmas in Canada, on December 25, is when friends and family hunker down at home to eat and open presents.

    Pretty much everything in the way of retail and services is closed on this day, except for the occasional convenience store. If you're looking for a bar or restaurant, a hotel is a good bet.

    December 24th, Christmas Eve, is the last chance to get Christmas shopping done, with most stores staying open until 5 or 6 pm and lots of people packing in work for the day at noon or shortly thereafter.

    On December 26th, Canadians shake off their tryptophan and egg nog induced sluggishness and hit the malls for Boxing Day, the biggest shopping day of the year, where stores slash prices in an effort to unload inventory.

  • 02 of 10

    Travel Around Christmas

    Plane on runway in winter
    ••• Plane on runway in winter. Adrian Studer / Getty Images

    The week in between Christmas and New Year's is a popular time to travel. Lots of people head for southern climates or across the country for a holiday visit. If you're looking for a travel bargain, consider flying on Christmas day, New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. Flight fares peak the weekend before and the days after December 25th, and again on January 2nd.

    Public transportation in Canada over the Christmas holidays will most likely be operating on a reduced schedule on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and New Year's Day.

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    ••• Toronto Santa Claus Parade with CN Tower in background - (c) Scott Rogers. (c) Scott Rogers (http://www.srpics.com/)

    Most major cities hold a Santa Claus Parade in November, with some spilling over into December. For bigger cities, like Vancouver and Toronto, if you're not up to facing the thousands of spectators that turn out for those parades, or if you just can't make the date, consider some of the smaller local parades that also take place during the holiday season.

    Toronto's Santa Claus Parade in fact holds the record as the longest standing children's parade and has marched the jolly man across town for more than a century.

  • 04 of 10

    Light Festivals in Canada

    ••• Photo courtesy Niagara Falls Tourism

    Christmas sees many cities aglow with a light festival:

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  • 05 of 10
    ••• Winter in Montreal is cold and snowy. Photo of Montreal in Winter © Tourisme Montréal

    Be sure to be prepared for cold weather if visiting Canada over Christmas; however, the climate does vary from west to east coast, with Vancouver and British Columbia as a whole much milder and wetter.

    Weather in popular southern Ontario and Quebec destinations, such as Toronto and Montreal is much harsher and snowfall can be dramatic. Be sure to educate yourself on how to dress and precautions to take, such as when driving in Canadian winter conditions. 

    Christmas traditions are similar right across the country, but be sure to be up-to-date on city-specific light festivals, Santa Claus sightings and Boxing Day sales.

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    ••• The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver gets lit up for the Christmas holidays. Photo courtesy Tourism Vancouver

    The weather stays relatively mild in Vancouver through the holiday season, but the city stays festive with the Rogers Santa Claus Parade and you're always an hour away from deep snow.

    See a complete guide to Vancouver Christmas & Holiday Season.

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    Toronto

    Although cold, Toronto at Christmas is bustling and festive. Light shows, the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, the Bay Christmas Windows are just some of the holiday activities in Toronto.

  • 08 of 10

    Ottawa

    ••• The Peace Tower, part of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, is lit up at Christmas. © Howard Sandler 1975-2006. All rights reserved.

    As Canada's national capital, Ottawa does any holiday up in a big way and Christmas is no exception. Light shows, parades and other festive activities go on throughout the season, but dress warmly!

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    ••• Photo © Tourisme Montréal, Daniel Choinière

    Montreal is another Canadian city that is darn cold but still charming over the holidays - especially in Old Montreal, with its historic buildings and cobblestone roads.

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    ••• Photograph: Perry Mastrovito / Getty Images

    The scene in Old Quebec City over the holidays is storybook perfect: snow-capped 17th-century buildings, cobblestone streets, Christmas lights. Many concerts and special events are staged to celebrate the season, including many that highlight the city's long history.