Holiday Season & Winter
Annual traditions, winter family fun, un-missable neighbourhood displays and events, and New Year’s Eve celebrations make the holidays one of the best times of year to be in Toronto.
- The Santa Claus Parade always kicks off Toronto’s holiday season in mid-late November. Entertaining all ages since 1905, the parade is one of Toronto’s oldest traditions. Animated floats leave the corner of Christie and Bloor Street in the company of two dozen marching bands and thousands of costumed participants, cheered along by excited kids.
- Late November brings another annual tradition: the Cavalcade of Lights, presented by Great Gulf. It’s the first lighting of Toronto’s official Christmas tree celebrated with live musical performances. More than 100,000 energy efficient LED lights illuminate Nathan Phillips Square.
- In early November, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair showcases 300 vendors, regal horse shows, entertaining dog shows and more.
- From late November to early December, the One of A Kind Show is the ideal place to find a unique, handcrafted holiday present. This craft show features handmade designs by over 800 artists, makers, designers and craftspeople.
- During the first two weeks in December, the historic Distillery District transforms into the Toronto Christmas Market, garnering its inspiration from the markets in Eastern Europe. Sip on mulled wine, listen to classic carols and warm yourself over a roaring fire pit while eating pork knuckle, schnitzel or the Canadian classic poutine. Kids always enjoy the festive performances and rides too.
- Two of Toronto’s major department stores decorate their windows with festive, lavish displays to welcome shoppers. Families love the traditional displays at The Bay’s flagship store across from the Eaton Centre. Uptown, fashionistas revel with delight at the creative merchandising of Holt Renfrew.
- The National Ballet of Canada’s sumptuous, comical, touching and spellbinding version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Christmas tale, The Nutcracker, was created in 1995 and has been enthralling audiences – especially children – ever since.
- Festive musical performances of all kinds are found at Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall. Jazz, pop, orchestras, choirs, all music helps celebrate the holiday season.
Winter Family Fun
- The Toronto Zoo celebrates the season with its annual Boxing Day tradition called the Christmas Treats Trek when the Zoo animals await their seasonal treats.
- At The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, acclaimed producer Ross Petty is known for his farcical pantomimes of traditional fairy tales. The plays run throughout the holiday season. Petty is known to perform as a female character in these plays, which has been an ongoing tradition.
- Tie up those laces on the skates and enjoy one of Toronto’s many skating rinks for some holiday cheer. Nathan Phillips Square, Harbourfront’s Natrel Rink, Evergreen Brickworks, and Mississauga Celebration Square are all great options.
- If the snow piles up, the many tobogganing hills in the city keep family spirits high. Centennial Park in Etobicoke has one of the biggest hills in the city. Riverdale Park and Withrow Park in the east end are popular options for families; make sure to warm up with hot chocolate nearby at Rooster Coffeehouse. High Park and Trinity Bellwoods Park are good west end options.
- ROM for the Holidays occupies families and encourages holiday spirit with two weeks of holiday programming at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).
- A 40-foot tree decorates the historic Distillery District.
- Twenty-two trees in blue, white and gold as well as a reindeer display light up the College-Yonge Street intersection.
- At Yonge-Dundas Square stands a 40-foot sculptural Christmas tree dressed in 52,000 blue and white lights.
- In the middle of the Eaton Centre shines an enormous tree display that changes year-to-year.
- Nathan Phillips Square holds one of the most famous trees; a 60-foot tree decorated with 12,000 LED lights and 700 ornaments. It takes two weeks to decorate and string the lights on the tree.
- Christmas trees full of blue lights line the neighbourhoods of Summerhill and Greektown on the Danforth.
New Year's Eve Celebrations
- A Toronto New Year’s celebration wouldn’t be complete without City TV’s annual New Year’s Bash at Nathan Phillips Square. Forty thousand people gather to be entertained by free, live performances and count down the final seconds until the new year arrives.
- At Mississauga Celebration Square, the party starts with treats from gourmet food trucks and continues with Mississauga Art Council’s Limelight Block Party featuring the city’s best dance groups and up-and-coming musicians and artists.
- Downtown Brampton becomes a flurry of fun and activity with Jugglers, Stiltwalkers, two live concert states, two spectacular firework displays and more.
- The kids will love the Toronto Zoo’s New Year Eve’s Family Countdown starting from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Families can visit with new and wild friends in the Americas & Australasia Pavilions and in the Tundra Trek. There’s plenty of entertainment including magic shows and music.
- On Toronto’s waterfront, City Cruises offers a New Year’s Eve cruise complete with dinner and dancing and, best of all, a glittery view of Toronto’s skyline.
- In the 1913 Santa Claus Parade, Eaton’s (an old Toronto department store) arranged for Santa to be pulled by live reindeer, which had been imported from Labrador, Canada specifically for the Parade. The reindeer had a dedicated veterinarian who looks after them and supplied their special diet of moss. Following the Parade, the reindeer retired to the property of an Eaton’s Executive outside Toronto.
- The One of a Kind Show is now the largest consumer craft show in North America.
- Lowe’s Christmas Market opened in 2010 but already had over 204,000 visitors in 2012.
- The National Ballet’s The Nutcracker has 214 performers in each show: 70 professional dancers, 60 student dancers, 60 musicians, and 24 singers.
- The all-time worst day for winter snow recorded at Pearson International Airport was on February 25, 1965, when the city was buried by a mind blowing (and no doubt snow blowing) 39.9 centimetres.