How do Canadians celebrate Christmas?

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: December 25, 2023

The end of the year represents a festive time for all people, filled with reflection and plans for the new year ahead. In Canada this is no different, with one of the country’s most popular holidays taking place at this time of year: Christmas.

Traditionally a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas (while decidedly a Christian holiday) takes on a more secular tone in Canada, due to the nation’s multiculturalism. Read on to learn more about how Christmas is celebrated in Canada.

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What is Canadian Christmas like?

There are many hallmarks to Christmas in Canada. One constant is the weather: Christmas time in Canada has all the trappings of winter, often accompanied by crisp snow, cold winds, and the need for warm clothing. This often tracks with other winter activities, like making snow men, snowball fights, and tobogganing.

However, what really sets Christmas apart from the rest of winter are its more traditional activities. These include setting up and decorating a Christmas tree, decorating one’s home with lights (particularly red and green), baking Christmas cookies (often in the shape of trees, angels, etc.), singing Christmas carols, and of course the exchange of gifts and holiday greetings.

There are also some Canada-specific twists on the popular holiday, For example, in the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec (two provinces with a strong French-Canadian culture), residents often hold a festive meal called Révillion, which takes place on Christmas Eve. This meal often consists of traditional Francophone dishes like tourtière and ragôut de pattes.

Elsewhere in provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador (especially in communities outside the city), individuals may practice a Christmas tradition called “mummering”. This practice is comparable to trick-or-treating during Halloween, and often involves friends and neighbours paying visits to loved ones in costumes—knocking on doors with the traditional call of “are there any mummers in the night?” or “any mummers ‘loud (allowed) in?”. While the practice is no longer as popular as it used to be (with roots dating back as far as ancient Rome), it can still be observed in some communities, either on Christmas day, or between Christmas and the new year.

Many of Canada’s Christmas celebrations look similar to those of other cultures (mostly European)—owing to the country’s multicultural makeup. For similar reasons, it is often common for Canadians to wish each other “happy holidays” as opposed to the traditional “merry Christmas”, due to the nation’s secular values. Christmas day (the 25th of December) and boxing day (the 26th of September) are both statutory holidays in Canada and are observed nation-wide.

The biggest Christmas celebrations are often in Canada's major cities specifically: Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Read on to learn more about 2023 Christmas celebrations in Canada’s three biggest cities.

Christmas celebrations in Toronto

Cavalcade of Lights

Toronto’s Cavalcade of Lights celebration is a yearly staple, that starts early in November and continues until January 7th of 2024. The event is inspired by international festivals around the winter solstice, lights, and lanterns—and transforms the area around Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square into a festive light show.  Visitors are also free to skate during winter months, and throughout the event.

Distillery Winter Village

Reminiscent of the old European markets, Toronto’s Distillery Winter Village (in the city’s distillery district) offers a fun and unique way for Torontonians to do their winter shopping.

The event features multiple shopping opportunities with hundreds of different vendors, in addition to live music, caroling, a candy cane forest, light shows, a meeting with Santa, and much more. The event is set to run until January 7th and offers different kinds of entrance passes, with children under nine gaining admission for free. Note that tickets must be purchased in advance.

Christmas celebrations in Vancouver

Canyon Lights

One of the more unique Christmas celebrations in Vancouver is the Canyon Lights event at Capilano Suspension Bridge. The bridge (itself a tourist attraction throughout the year), takes on a Christmas theme at this time of the year, sporting festive lights, and even light shows and intricate decorations. The resulting event is a compelling view of North Vancouver, with participants able to enjoy the sights of the city and canyon, in addition to live music, craft workshops for children, fundraisers, and raffle prizes. The event will run until January 21st, 2024.

Christmas celebrations in Montréal

The Great Christmas Market

One of several holiday markets in Quebec’s largest city, The Great Christmas Market offers a number of attractions, including live music, food, and over 61 exhibitors and vendors. Located at Quartier des spectacles on Sainte-Catherine Street, the market promise musical and theatrical programming, and a number of local artisans selling their wares. The event is happening now and will take place until December 31st, with varying times depending on which day visitors attend.

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