Christmas in Canada is celebrated in much the same way as it is in other Western countries. As it is across the globe, December 25th is the official holiday in Canada, with many Canadians also taking time off on the afternoon of the 24th (Christmas Eve) as well as Boxing Day, celebrated on the 26th.
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, especially in Toronto and Montreal where there are large Jewish populations. On Christmas Day, pretty much everything in the way of retail and services is closed, except for the occasional convenience store. If you're looking for a bar or restaurant for a good holiday meal, a hotel is a good bet.
Christmas Eve (December 24th), is the last chance to get Christmas shopping done, with most stores staying open until 5 or 6 p.m. and lots of people leaving work for the day by noon or shortly thereafter.
Canadian traditions include decorating a Christmas tree and exchanging gifts. On Christmas Day a special meal is prepared often including roast turkey, seasonal vegetables, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Traditional favorite Christmas desserts reminiscent of England include Christmas plum puddings and mincemeat tarts. Christmas crackers are popular favors. A rich fruit Christmas Cake is also a traditional Christmas sweet.
On December 26th, Canadians shake off their food comas and hit the malls for Boxing Day, the biggest shopping day of the year, where stores slash prices in an effort to attract holiday shoppers.
Travel Around Christmas
The week 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.
Christmas Parades are popular holiday celebrations. Most major cities across Canada 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 holds the record as the longest-standing children's parade and has marched jolly St. Nick across town for more than a century.
Lights Festivals are also popular. There are festivals of lights, which set many Canadian cities aglow. Some of the most popular are:
- Winter Festival of Lights, Niagara Falls
- Christmas Lights across Canada, Ottawa
- Toronto Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto
- Vancouver Festival of Lights, Van Dusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver
- Airdrie Festival of Lights, Airdrie (35 km or 22 miles from Calgary)
Christmas traditions are similar right across the country, but check local listings to keep up-to-date on city-specific light festivals, Santa Claus sightings, and Boxing Day sales.
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 being 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. Educate yourself on how to dress and precautions to take, such as helpful tips for driving in Canadian winter conditions.
Christmas in Canadian Cities
Although it's cold, Toronto at Christmas is bustling and festive. Light shows, the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, and elaborately decorated department store windows in the downtown core are just some of the holiday activities in Toronto.
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.
The scene in Old Quebec City over the holidays is storybook perfect: snow-capped 17th-century buildings, cobblestone streets, and Christmas lights. Many concerts and special events are staged to celebrate the season, including many that highlight the city's long history.