The holiday season in Montreal is filled with family-friendly activities—from touring special museum exhibits to attending carol performances, theatre productions, and even a few free events—which makes it a great time to visit, especially if you're looking for a way to get your family in the Christmas spirit.
Although the weather in Montreal this time of year may be slightly colder and wetter than many American tourists experience at home, the festively decorated neighborhoods and the plethora of winter events and activities more than make up for the slight discomfort of visiting the city during winter. Plus, you're likely to have a white Christmas since snowfall usually starts in late November for much of the region.
Whether you're used to the cold or not, be sure to dress warmly if you plan to attend one of these festive events, parades, and activities happening in Montreal this Decemeber—many of which take place outdoors.
If there's an event that marks the beginning of holiday season in Montreal, it's the lighting of Place Ville-Marie's Christmas tree, a downtown tradition since 1962 when this shopping destination first opened its doors.
Made in New York, the "tree" is composed of 13,000 lights, measuring 19.20 meters tall (63 feet) and 7.92 meters in diameter (26 feet). It's located just outside Place Ville-Marie at the southern end of McGill College Avenue.
If you happen to miss the official tree lighting ceremony, you can see it from Ste Catherine Street lit up daily through the first week of January.
Speaking of shopping, several of Montreal's best Christmas sales, bazaars, and annual craft fairs are happening this November and December. While many of the city's favorite year-round stores and downtown Montreal malls will be open on Christmas Day, these special markets and sales are sure to make your wallet happy this holiday season.
The biggest craft fair in Quebec, the Salon des métiers d'Art, returns to Place Bonaventure from December 6 to 16, 2018, and provides free access to hundreds of vendors, making it one of the best destinations in Montreal for Christmas shopping.
Alternatively, you can stock up on the best cheeses, homegrown veggies, and meats in town at Montreal's public markets, many of which will also feature special seasonal crafts and goods perfect for last-minute Christmas gifts. The Place Jacques-Cartier Christmas market and the Jean-Talon Market are both great destinations if you're looking for artisanal-quality gifts.
Le Grand Marché de Noël de Montréal (The Grand Christmas Market) is the official holiday hub for the city each year, and in 2018, it's moving to a new home in the heart of the Latin Quarter between De Maisonneuve and Ontario streets on St. Denis Street.
Le Grande Marché de Noël will be open on select dates from November 30 to December 23, 2018, and will feature a huge holiday market along with several festive events and celebrations throughout the month, including the Montreal Christmas parade.
Montreal's most popular parade of the season is the Santa Claus Parade, which features hundreds of festively-adorned participants marching through downtown on November 17, 2018, beginning at 11 a.m. Festivities start on Sainte-Catherine West and Du Fort streets and continue down Sainte-Catherine to Saint-Urbain Street.
Presented by Destination centre-ville and produced by Le Carnaval de Québec, the Santa Claus Parade features over 20 floats including Santa's and the Christmas Fairy's as well as several musical guests and performances along the route.
Some of the most gorgeous churches west of the Atlantic Ocean can be found in Montreal, and Christmas Mass can get so packed at some of them that tickets are required to rein in the queues waiting outside churches across the city.
Fortunately, with so many gorgeous churches and cathedrals spread across Montreal to choose from, you shouldn't have much difficulty finding at least one Christmas Mass to attend this year. Check out the linked list for a complete guide to the best Mass services in the city.
Hang a Stocking and Make Bread at Château Ramezay
Located on Notre-Dame street across from Montreal City Hall, Château Ramezay proposes an assortment of holiday-inspired activities for the whole family from December 1, 2018, to January 6, 2019.
From free sweet bread baking workshops to offering little ones the chance to receive a stocking stuffer from Santa, the events at this historic site and museum are sure to entertain, especially if you're traveling with younger children.
Running December 15 to December 31, 2018, Pointe-à-Callière's annual event, "Who Is the Real Santa Claus" features holiday characters Befana, Saint Nicholas, Saint Lucy, and Santa Claus introducing children to how the holidays are celebrated in their respective homes.
English tours are scheduled at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. whereas French tours are held at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. every weekend in December as well as December 26 through December 31, 2018. Tours last about 45 minutes, and activities are included with admission.
If you're a resident of Montreal or plan on staying in the city for an extended amount of time over the holiday season, you might want to consider getting an evergreen tree to make your winter home more festive.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great farms within driving distance of Montreal where you can pick out your own Christmas tree this year, many of which include kid-friendly perks like one-on-ones with Santa, tractor rides, baked goods, and other fun holiday activities.
A Christmas tradition in Montreal's Plateau and Mile End neighborhood is Noël dans le Parc ("Christmas in the Park"), a December-long series of outdoor events, shows, and activities perfect for the whole family.
Noël dans le Parc debuts December 1 and will wrap up programming by December 25, 2018. The event has two central hubs—Parc Lahaie and Parc des Compagnons-de-Saint-Laurent—both of which will also have convenient spots to pick up a cut Christmas tree this year. Additionally, as with years prior, organizers for Christmas in the Park have tacked on family activities at Place Émilie-Gamelin, just west of the Gay Village.
Saint-Joseph's Oratory, located at the highest point in Montreal, showcases the birth of Jesus with a variety of nativity scene displays each year. This year, the Oratory will also feature special concerts on December 9, 16, 23, and 30; host a celebration of reconciliation on December 16; and present Christmas Eve and Day Masses on December 24 and 25.
The Oratory is open year-round, including on Christmas and New Year's Day, and access to the Oratory is free. However, there is a modest admission fee to enter the museum, which is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Montreal and the surrounding area of Quebec are full of fun indoor and outdoor attractions, which is one of the many reasons to love winter in Montreal. From massive ice skating rinks on frozen lakes to warm mountain resorts full of winter fun, you're sure to find an adventure on your trip to Canada this December—oftentimes without ever leaving the city.
Some popular Montreal outdoor skating rinks, like the Old Port's Bonsecours Basin and Mount Royal's Beaver Lake, open early in the season, by late November or early December. However, for the most part, skaters have to wait until mid-December to lace up and glide unless they visit Atrium le 1000, a year-round indoor rink that Santa's known to frequent throughout the holiday season.
Every year since 2010, the McCord Museum has been putting together exhibits tailor-made for children, and each December, the museum presents a special display of historic toys to celebrate the season of giving.
From December 16, 2018, to March 17, 2018, the McCord Museum will host "Treasures in the Attic," a made-for-kids exhibit exploring a universe of forgotten toys from 1880 to today. Free for children ages 12 and under, this interactive attraction also challenges younger kids to follow a paper trail as they retrace the evolution of toys throughout history.
An annual tradition at the World Trade Center (Centre de commerce mondial de Montréal) is its Santa Claus Exhibit, which is usually on display from early November until early January each year.
As part of the exhibit, eight Santas Claus statues—life-sized figures representing the iconic character's image from different cultures around the world—will be placed throughout this shopping, hotel, and office complex throughout the holiday season.
If you're in the area, it's a nice way to spend say 20 or 30 minutes taking in the gorgeous interior of the Trade Centre while checking out a few inanimate Santas.
Downtown Montreal's premier shopping and office complex, Complexe Desjardins, will come alive this holiday season with plenty of festive events and attractions, starting with Santa's arrival to La Grande-Place on November 17, 2018.
After his brief November debut, Santa will return for select days throughout December, starting on December 1, 2018. In addition to a slew of free shows and activities, kids can sit down with Santa, catch a live orchestra performance, and enjoy fountain lights and water jet shows. On the weekend of December 17 and December 18, 2018, dance troupes from across Quebec will put on free recitals at the Complex.
Santa is very busy on Saturdays and Sundays, so you must make an appointment with his secretary as soon as you arrive. Visits with Santa start at 9:30 a.m. but he will be on break from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m, and from 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Each year, îlot84 (Island84) puts together what's known as "Village du Valain Sapin" (Villain Sapin Village of Montreal), a Christmas market-style attraction featuring ugly and unusual holiday crafts, decor, and goods, including the "world's ugliest Christmas tree."
Picking up where Prince Arthur's Le Petit Marché de Noël left off in 2016 and the Village left off in 2017, this year's event will provide a source and supply of Christmas trees, foodie treats, and artisan goods from November 24 through December 23, 2018 on Prince Arthur near the corner of Saint-Laurent.
An annual tradition in Montreal's oldest chapel, Les Choralies de la Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours is a series of concert events held at Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours in Old Montreal each holiday December.
Each of these concerts lasts about 45 minutes and admission is donation-based. You can catch a different choir every Saturday and Sunday from December 1 to 23, 2018, at 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. as well as several special concerts throughout the month. This year, the Choralies conclude with a concert finale on December 23 featuring Ensemble Da Capo singing select Bach cantatas.
On Saturday, December 8, 2018, you can catch two performances of the Jireh Gospel Choir and Montreal Gospel Choir's annual Gospel Christmas Celebration at Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church. Featuring over 100 singers performing together for one huge concert of soulful worship, this annual celebration is sure to put your entire family in the holiday spirit.
If you've ever wanted to sing in a choir, you can make your dreams come true at the CBC Christmas Sing-in event, which will take place in early December of 2018. Featuring seasonal music for choir, organ, brass, and percussion and hosted by CBC personalities and special guest artists, this musical event welcomes over 1,500 participants each year.
Illuminating Place des Festivals every December and January with a series of light installations, Luminothérapie is an antidote to Montreal's shortest and darkest days on the year, a sort-of light therapy that coincides with the holiday season.
Luminothérapie is a great pitstop on your travels around the city this holiday season, providing a much-needed reprieve from the bustling crowds at Montreal's museums and shopping malls. Plus, Place des Festival is close to Montreal's chief contemporary art museum as well as Complexe Desjardins.
When it comes to celebrating the holidays with a bang, there's nothing quite like cuddling up with loved ones as you watch fireworks burst overhead.
In Montreal, you'll have four chances to catch a brilliant fireworks display this holiday season at the "Fire on Ice" event. Each night starting at 8 p.m. on December 15, 22, and 29, 2018, and January 5, 2019, fireworks will light up the sky over the skating rink at Natrel Basin in Old Port. Although the fireworks are free to enjoy, normal rates apply for the Natrel skating rink.