It’s often said that it takes a village to make something monumental happen. It’s a phrase that comes to my mind when I think about Upper Canada Village, a historic site in southeast Ontario, just an hour from Ottawa. This amazing destination preserves the experience of rural life for early settlers in the 1860s. And, come Christmas, it does indeed “take a village” to celebrate the season.
Each year, from late November to late December, the buildings, trees, and even the fences of Upper Canada Village are adorned with thousands of Christmas lights for its annual “Alight At Night” festival. It’s a creative and physical undertaking that starts around September and the results indeed have a true village atmosphere. Carli Smelko, Upper Canada Village’s special events officer, raves about the local community’s loyalty to the event and told me that there are families who return to see the show nearly every year.
“We have people returning every year,” she says. “It’s a tradition … it’s just such a classic experience … it’s such an experience in itself that you want to see this, you want to see it every year. It’s traditional for families, for couples, you know, when they got engaged here, they have this connection to the village that they want to come back.”
It’s a tradition I love as well and I already have my 2021 tickets. If you’re hoping to attend, here are some practical tips to make the most of your magical night.
Advanced Tickets Are A Must
Similar to Upper Canada Village’s other big seasonal event, Pumpkinferno, advanced tickets with specific time slots are a must to attend Alight At Night. Tickets are a very reasonable $15 per person.
The Weather Might Be Delightful… Or Frightful
My first visit to Alight At Night was positively fairytale-esque as the ground was covered in fluffy snow and there were gentle flakes floating through the sky. However, this event goes ahead regardless of the weather. Bundle up with lots of layers! I like to bring along a travel thermos of tea or cocoa to stay extra warm and the onsite Beavertails shop also sells hot beverages.
Regardless of the weather, wear sturdy shoes. The unpaved paths are slightly uneven in places and, despite the best of efforts to plow snow and apply sand, there might be slippery spots.
There’s An Alternative To Walking
If you’d rather not walk the 40-minute route, there’s a romantic alternative. Horse and carriage rides are available on a limited basis (alas, 2021 is already sold out!). Snuggled in a carriage with your beloved and tucked in among the warm blankets … No wonder marriage proposals happen here!
Those with limited mobility will want to note that Alight At Night usually dedicates a couple of nights each season as accessibility nights, allowing visitors to drive their vehicles along the route.
Santa Is On Site
Santa Claus takes a break from managing the North Pole workshop to visit Upper Canada Village each year. He’ll be busy contemplating his list and toy designs in his onsite workshop and is available to take socially-distanced photos with visitors.
A Miniature Train Awaits
One of the most popular parts of Alight At Night, the onsite miniature train is back this year, and rides are included with your admission ticket. This is going to be a new adventure for me as I missed out last year — and you better believe I’ll be joining the kids to check it out.
You Can Dine On Site
In addition to the Beavertails stand selling pastries, snacks, and hot drinks, Upper Canada Village’s Harvest Barn restaurant is open during Alight At Night. You have to make advanced reservations and show your proof of vaccination, as per provincial guidelines. If you’re particularly sensitive to cold weather, I think this is the perfect way to warm up. After a hearty meal, you’ll be fortified to carry on with the rest of the path!
Regardless, you really should save room for a Beavertails pastry at the end. They’re delicious! Keep an eye out for a small basket of Beavertails coupons when you have your admission ticket scanned at the beginning of your visit.
Pro Tip: You Can Sleep Overnight!
I have my good friend Katharine Fletcher, a fellow fan of Alight At Night, to thank for this wonderful tip. There are accommodation options at Upper Canada Village! She describes the experience she had with her partner and friends at one of the overnight options, Montgomery House, saying, “Eric and I took a girlfriend and her granddaughter and a couple we all know, with their three children. It was a fabulous time even though it poured rain. We all stayed overnight, all of us together, in Montgomery House. Awesome.”
Take time to explore other Canada Christmas options: