Across Germany, Austria, Eastern France and Northern Italy, during the cold dark winter months, people have for centuries gathered at Christmas markets to clink mugs of warm mulled wines and revel in the season. There’s always live music and the chance to shop for ornate decorations, artisanal gifts and regional delicacies. In recent years, Canada has adopted these traditions—it makes sense with our climate and multicultural heritage. Here we reveal our favourite Christmas markets from east to west across the country—tiny and large—so you can wrap up your shopping with festive cheer.
Joy to Toronto!
The cobbled Distillery District, just east of Toronto’s downtown core, goes into full charm-offensive mode each winter, with a Nordic-style Christmas market. Grown-ups congregate in the cozy heated beer garden, where you can sip craft brews, gluhwein or Christmas cocktails. (Live acts, such as klezmer band the Horables and Ukrainian carollers Kosa Kolektiv provide a soundtrack from the stage.) Kids (and pets) can take photos with Santa, and the whole family has fun at traditional carousels and on the Ferris wheel. At wooden stalls, you can stock up on everything from beeswax candles to Polish hand-painted glass baubles and buy Germanic snacks such as gingerbread men or spiralled roast potatoes with apple sauce and sour cream. Don’t forget to snap your photo by the giant illuminated JOY sign.
Where: Distillery District, Toronto
When: until December 22
Festive Port of Call in Quebec City
In Quebec City’s Old Port, visitors can stroll through the annual Christmas market for a delicious taste of the festive season. There’s an emphasis on Quebec regional treats (read: pork products), so you can sample cranberry desserts, smoked meats and charcuterie at gourmet tastings. Maple taffy on snow is a must-try. Crafty types can drop in for handmade-gift workshops, and among the 70-plus vendors are craftspeople selling wooden-carved decorations, Christmas wreaths and eco toys. And if you love holiday recipe books, you can find a new favourite and get it signed by the author in person—don’t miss your chance to meet chef and author Stéphane Modat from Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, who just released his first cookbook.
Where: Old Port, Quebec City
When: until December 31
Local Artisan Market in Winnipeg
Last-minute shoppers in Winnipeg will love the Holiday 2016 – WEST Etsy Market taking place for one day only on December 17. (Etsy is a thriving online marketplace where crafters and artists from around the world sell handmade items.) Looking for a felt fairy wand? Check! Coveting scented soy candles? Check! In the market for a burlap Christmas wreath? Check! There’s the coziest of knitwear too, designed and handmade by local crafters, and you can even deck out the baby on your list with teeny leather booties. Find a mix of newly crafted and vintage finds at this market, curated by Etsy Winnipeg. And to round out the shopping experience, pick up unique holiday cards (the old fashioned paper kind that require a stamp) just in time to catch the last mail delivery before Christmas Day.
Where: St James Civic Centre, Winnipeg
When: December 17
Yuletide by the Seaside in Vancouver
The Olympic Cauldron has been repurposed this year as the location for an oceanfront Christmas market in Vancouver. Here you can nibble on tubular sugar-dusted Hungarian chimney cakes or Bavarian roasted pork shanks with salty, crisped edges, then wash them down with Okanagan craft spirits or Austrian herbal tea. This is the place to buy your zany Christmas sweater or Alpaca stockings, not to mention gilded beer steins or 3D paper stars, which come in build-your-own packs. Singer-songwriters, jazz bands and a peace choir will take the stage to spread the Christmas spirit among a glowing-cheeked, tuque-and-mitten crowd.
Where: Olympic Cauldron, Vancouver
When: until December 31
Snowflake Gifts in Calgary
For a truly hyperlocal gift shopping experience, Calgarians can check out the Market Collective Cheer series. There, makers sell beautifully designed handmade goods, running the gamut from textiles to ceramics to jewellery to pet clothing. There’s a rotation of vendors from week to week, so it feels like you’re shopping a whole new market every time. As well as finding one-of-a-kind gifts made with love, you’ll be supporting up-and-coming artists and the live musicians who show up to serenade shoppers.
Where: Chinese Cultural Centre, Calgary
When: weekends until December 18
Maritime Christmas Magic
On the Waterfront in Halifax—in the restored 18th- and 19th-century boutique stores of Historic Properties—the Halifax Lights Holiday Market, draws holiday revellers until December 18, 2016. This cobbled destination-shopping area redoubles its charms with a festival of lights. The streets are lined with ribbon- and bauble-clad fir trees and vendors sell artisanal gifts, foods and decorations—think rum cakes, handmade jewellery and maritime-themed apparel by local designers. Carollers and fiddlers provide Celtic-inspired live entertainment, and there’s free entrance, exceptionally to kids’ favourite play places: the Wave and the Submarine Playground.
There are so many unique Canadian markets to explore—here are a few more under-the-radar options: Michael Stadtlander’s Christmas market at Eigensinn Farm, in Singhampton, north of Toronto, has everything you need for the Christmas tables, from hams to preserves to oven-ready birds. Glebe Winter Market, in support of Ottawa Therapy Dogs, is bursting with handcrafted wares. Just outside of Edmonton, St Albert’s Indoor Christmas Market brings in seasonal vendors selling all you need for gifting, dining and decorating the home. And don’t forget one we are very partial to: the Grand Marché de Noël de Montréal (in French only) where VIA Rail’s mini train is the coolest way for kids to get around. Go get your festive fix!