Christmas is a magical time no matter where you are (after all, the holidays live in our hearts), but if we’re being real, we have to admit that some towns just do it up better. Their lights are brighter. Their carols are louder. Their mall Santas are jollier.
The following are towns that put that little extra bit of Christmas magic into their celebrations. Fortunately, thanks to the Internet, we can all participate vicariously in their cheer, and maybe get some ideas to up our Christmas game next year.
Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Mahone Bay’s annual Father Christmas Festival sees the town filled with life-sized Father Christmas figures, making just walking down the streets into an immersive Christmas adventure. The people of Mahone’s Bay further fuel the holiday cheer with a Yuletide food market, wandering minstrels, horse-drawn buggies, and something known as the “mouse choir” (don’t ask us). Citizens also contribute their own ideas. This year, local businesswoman Vicki Bardon has turned an empty barn into a Nutcracker fantasy, a two-story tableau full of toys and sugar plum fairies.
Incidentally, Mahone Bay’s festival talents are not limited to Christmas—the town also puts on a yearly Pirate Festival and Regatta.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Pine and fir trees are essential holiday ingredients, and Nova Scotia grows some of Canada’s biggest and best Christmas trees. The reason Halifax is specifically making this list is its yearly Boston Tree Sendoff. Each year, Nova Scotians search for their biggest and best tree, and send it to Boston in thanks for the city’s help after the 1917 Halifax Explosion. The explosion of a cargo ship in Halifax’s harbour killed around 2,000 people and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings. Boston quickly responded with relief workers, medical supplies, and food. Nova Scotia’s tree-gifting tradition acknowledges some of the most important elements of the holidays: friendship, neighbourliness, and generosity.
Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
In Nunavut, most towns celebrate the holidays with Christmas games, and Cambridge Bay commits to the tradition wholeheartedly with two full weeks of games leading up to Christmas. The games generally take place at local schools and include everything from relay races to dances, and hundreds of people attend. Oh, and there are prizes of course. Cambridge Bay also hosts a Santa Claus parade, a Christmas bazaar, and fundraisers for the food bank. People in Cambridge Bay truly spend their holidays with their friends, family, and community, sharing the best the season has to offer. In fact, at a fundraiser last year, Vicki Aitaok brought her espresso maker—the only one in the entire town—to share cappuccinos and lattes with other attendees. Now that’s Christmas spirit.
St. John’s, Newfoundland
Can you believe that St. John’s is the only municipality in Canada with a mummers festival?
What, you don’t know what mummering is? Ok, neither did we. This old Christmas custom originated in England and Ireland, but it’s now known for being practiced in Newfoundland and Labrador. In mummering (also known as “janneying”), groups of friends and family dress in disguise and visit other people’s homes, where they then dance and clown. The residents of the home try to guess who the mummers are, and when they are correctly identified, mummers and their hosts eat and drink together. In At the St. John’s Mummers Festival, mummers dance, parade, and make crafts. It’s a refreshing break from typical Christmas parades, and is an important living tradition on Canada’s east coast.
OK, Edmonton’s hardly a “town,” but it’s the perfect place to have a white Christmas. For starters, the city has a real-life Candy Cane Lane—that is, a huge display of Christmas lights and decorations in a west end neighbourhood. Unlike most light festivals, this one is created entirely by the residents of the community, and thousands of people visit each year. Then there’s the Festival of Trees, a huge Christmas bonanza benefitting the University of Alberta Hospital that goes all out in celebrating the best parts of the Christmas season. There’s a gingerbread-house contest, live entertainment, and a post office where you can write and mail your letter to Santa. Edmonton knows that the best way to deal with the cold is to embrace it, and all the good things that come with it.
Many cities have light festivals during the holidays, but few have over 50 years’ worth of experience under their belts. Simcoe’s Panorama River of Lights is in it 57th year, and by now it has mastered the art of creating elaborate, sparkling floats. These floats display everything from Christmas trees to castles, all in full shining colour. There are also family activities, horse-drawn trollies, and bus tours. Best of all, Simcoe’s long-running festival is keeping with times. They’ve reduced energy usage by converting 90 percent of their lights to LEDs.
Quebec City, Quebec
Old Quebec City is just the place to be at Christmastime. It’s completely picturesque, its old churches and beautiful buildings adorned with lights, and the streets are filled with merrymakers. There is a German Christmas Market filled with treats and performances, the Festi Lumière (a light festival), and lots of fluffy white snow. Quebecers also celebrate Réveillon, a Christmas Eve party when people eat traditional meals and exchange gifts. If you simply want to be in a place that resonates with the feeling of Christmas, you can’t do much better than charming Quebec.