Nobody does Christmas quite like Canadians. Whether it’s our love of winter or the fact that Santa Claus himself lives here, Canadians from coast to coast love celebrating the festive season. These 13 quaint towns in particular are magical spots to celebrate the holidays.
1. Bay Roberts, Newfoundland
What’s better than a one-holiday parade? Why, two of them, of course. Bay Roberts, a small town in Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, hosts both a Santa Claus Parade (in the day) and an Illumination Parade (at night) — and that’s just the beginning of their festivities. Their annual Festival of Lights is home to the largest Nativity scene east of Montreal. Other fun Christmas activities include a cake cutting, live music, arts and crafts activities, a staging of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and even an ugly sweater party. Most heartwarming of all, caroling is organized so seniors who are homebound can receive musical visitors.
2. Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
This charming seaside town is one of the prettiest in the province and, come winter, it’s also one of the most festive. Mahone Bay’s annual The Season Of Father Christmas festival fills the town with cheer. The seasonal delights include distributing gingerbread decorating kits, a “reindeer fun run,” a Christmas market complete with the chance to win your wish list, Christmas tree lighting, prizes for the best-decorated home and business, a book sale, wreath-making workshops, and more. Event organizers promise you will: “Breath in the scent of fir permeating the air as you stroll through the town taking in the twinkling lights and boughs of holly (maybe even the occasional Christmas gnome).”
3. North Rustico, Prince Edward Island
In the small north shore fishing village of North Rustico (affectionately nicknamed “The Crick”), the area’s hospitality and charm only add to the seasonal celebrations. For more than 30 years visitors have been coming to see the home of residents James and Audrey Gallant, who adorn their residence with more than 20,000 bulbs. Just how popular is this site? The community’s welcome sign says that North Rustico is “The home of Mr. Christmas, James Gallant.” However, it’s not just the Gallants who decorate their homes. Many other residents have joined in the festive spirit, including master carver Shane McKenna, who embraces local driftwood as his medium.
4. St. Andrews-By-The-Sea, New Brunswick
If there was a prize for the cutest holiday festival name, St. Andrews-By-The-Sea in southern New Brunswick might just take the cake. Each year, they celebrate the season with the charmingly named “Christmas By The Sea”. Residents enjoy fun craft workshops (like making a Grinch-themed tree skirt and “wine and weave” wreath making), a Santa Claus parade, a tree lighting ceremony, a gingerbread house competition, skating with Santa, and even free poutine! St. Andrews is a superb shopping destination all year round with sweet seaside shops. Many offer extended hours, special treats, and other merry treats during the lead-up to Christmas.
5. Mont-Tremblant, Québec
If Mont-Tremblant did nothing to celebrate the Christmas season other than just being its delightfully picturesque self, it would still be one of the best places to celebrate the season in Canada. This gorgeous ski destination is everything you imagine when you picture a winter wonderland, from snow-capped chalets to cozy pubs. Come Christmas, the town does go all out and reaches new heights of wintery charm. The town’s pedestrian center gets all gussied up with wreaths and lights. The lineup of activities includes ice sculpting workshops, soap bubble blowing, an outdoor disco, snowboarding clowns, ice skating, and there’s a Santa Claus parade on December 24th.
6. Almonte, Ontario
Almonte might just be Canada’s top Christmas destination that keeps the celebrations going all year round. That’s because Almonte is one of the top filming destinations for Hallmark and other made-for-TV holiday movie studios. Filmmakers love the town’s historic architecture, the delightful little shops on Mill Street, and the surrounding natural beauty. However, when the actors and camera operators go away, Almonte knows how to celebrate the holidays in style. The annual Light Up The Night event offers an open-air concert and spectacular fireworks display, one of the largest outdoor events of its kind in the country.
7. Austin, Manitoba
This tiny community of just 415 people has a massive amount of Christmas spirit. It’s home to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum and, every winter, it trims its trees and historic buildings in thousands of lights. Exploring after sunset is an absolute treat as you imagine what Christmas would have looked like in the 1940s-1950s. Horse-drawn sleigh rides, bonfires, yummy treats, and various activities for kids round out their Yuletide offerings. The museum has another seasonal option if you can’t make it in person. You can order wall calendars that showcase different scenic vistas in and around the museum grounds.
8. Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta
At Fort Saskatchewan’s annual Lights Up! event, visitors enjoy taking pictures with Santa Claus and have the chance to chat with Christmas characters like Elsa and Anna from Frozen, the Grinch, Mr. Reindeer, and the friendly Elf. After that, get into the festive spirit with caroling and reading of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. An Indigenous cultural display by the Fort Saskatchewan Indigenous Society, the lighting of the City Hall Christmas lights, and the Santa Claus parade round out the offerings.
9. Airdrie, Alberta
The Airdrie Festival of Lights’ unofficial motto is “Get your glow on” and, given that they offer the largest Christmas light display in western Canada, it seems like a pretty good slogan to me. Volunteers work year-round to plan the huge event, which consists of a walk-through light experience with about a million dollars worth of displays and special features. Those who want to have a more relaxing experience can opt to ride a miniature train along a pre-set path in the lights and hot drinks are available so everyone stays toasty and warm. The festival also offers a kids-only shopping zone where kids can complete their holiday shopping with helpful elves, choosing from gift items that cost $10 or less and have no profit markup.
10. Barkerville, British Columbia
In the mid-to-late 1800s, everyone who was anyone was in Barkerville. It was the gold rush season and this was the place to be! However, like so many gold rush towns, the population steadily declined once panning for gold was no longer in demand. Today, it is the Barkerville Historic Town and Park and home to 125 heritage buildings. Christmas here is a magical experience. Sleigh rides, town tours, cookie decorating workshops, caroling, indoor concerts, and historical programs are offered.
11. Dawson City, Yukon
Another one-time gold rush town that has embraced its history and heritage, Dawson City is home to eight national historic sites, including the “Dawson Historical Complex,” which encompasses the historic town center. The town celebrates the holidays with a unique tradition: a flotilla! Well, a winter version of one at least. Residents drive through town towing river boats, which have been decorated with lights. When luck is on their side, Mother Nature makes her contribution to the celebration and you can see the Northern Lights. Other seasonal events include a Celebration of Lights, an all-ages event to decorate and light a community Christmas tree. There is also caroling, gingerbread house decorating, and visits from Santa.
12. Inuvik, Northwest Territories
In Inuvik and other communities of the Western Arctic Region of the Northwest Territories, Santa just isn’t a Christmas-time visitor. He’s practically a neighbor! After all, the area is home to the only reindeer herd in Canada. Santa surely is just a short trek away and possibly he gained inspiration from Inuvik’s large Christmas craft sales featuring stained glass ornaments, soapstone carvings, cozy beaver mittens, beaded moccasins, and mukluks, plus tasty preserves and baked goods. However, the biggest winter celebration in the area isn’t Christmas related at all. Early in the new year, Inuvik celebrates the Sunrise Festival, welcoming the sun back after 33 days of 24-hour darkness with dancing, music, snow carving, bonfires, fireworks, and more.
13. Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
Christmas celebrations keep Cambridge Bay residents busy for a full two weeks leading up to the holiday. A Santa Claus parade, Christmas bazaar, and fundraisers are always on the events list (in recent years, a coffeehouse-style social event with lattes, baked goods, and live music raised thousands for the foodbank). Embracing kinship and community has always been a part of the holiday spirit here and writer Navalik Tologanak reminisces about past celebrations in the Nunavut News, reflecting: “Remembering Christmas back then was special when all our families, relatives, and neighbors would all gather traveling in by dog teams. All the families would be cooking, drum dancing, and playing games in the igloo, and kids would play outdoors. There was no gift exchange but the gifts we would get were handmade sewn crafts like kamiit, mitts, parkas, or a new cover.”