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Travel: Big city, bright lights at Christmas



Toronto’s Christmas market in the Distillery District is rated one of the best in the world.



There’s no place like home for the holidays but the lights of the big city shine even brighter at Christmas. Toronto celebrates the holiday season from the end of November to the New Year.
The fun starts with the annual Santa Claus Parade Sunday, Nov. 20 and ends with a New Year’s Day Salute to Vienna concert at Roy Thomson Hall. Why have 12 days of Christmas when you can have 43?
The spectacular Santa Claus Parade with more than 25 floats, 22 bands and 100 clowns starts at 12.30 pm at Christie Pits Park on Bloor St. and then winds its way down around Queen’s Park to University Ave. and ends up at the St. Lawrence Market on Front St.
There’s no need to go to Europe to enjoy the sights, sounds and scents of a Christmas Market. Last year Fodor’s Travel named Toronto’s Christmas Market in the Distillery District as one of the best in the world, up there with The Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. (And the Germans are very big on Christmas having invented just about every holiday tradition from trees to nutcrackers!)
The Christmas Market, complete with food and craft vendors, carnival rides, beer garden and entertainment, opens Friday, Nov. 18 and runs to Thursday, Dec. 22.
I visited the market on a busy Friday evening last year. It was very crowded and, as a first-time visitor, I was overwhelmed. A daytime visit might provide a better chance to visit the vendors, although it is a magical experience at night.
The market is closed Mondays but open other days from noon to 9 pm with extended hours on weekends. There may be a small admission charge Fridays and weekends with proceeds supporting charities.
From Nov. 24 to Dec. 4, shop for unique Canadian-made gifts at the One of a Kind Show & Sale at Exhibition Place. The show, which is perhaps the most sophisticated arts and craft show you’ll ever attend, features more than 800 artisans. The show is juried to ensure quality and uniqueness.
Last year at the One of a Kind Show, I purchased a cap made from a recycled cashmere sweater, a gift for myself. You can shop for prêt-à-porter style fashions, delicious baked goods, preserves, jams, dressings, marinades and sweets. Many biodegradable, recycled, and organic products are featured.
There are many other traditions to enjoy in Toronto such as taking in a performance of The Nutcracker, viewing the decorated windows at The Bay at Yonge and Queen, and skating at Nathan Phillips Square.
A new tradition for you may be a visit to Allan Gardens near Jarvis and Carlton. The Christmas Flower Show is the highlight of the year. The entire conservatory is decorated and filled with thousands of flowering plants, more than 30 varieties of poinsettia plants and amazing seasonal topiary masterpieces made entirely of plant material.
The show opens Sunday, Dec. 1 with horse and wagon rides, carolers, hot apple cider and a visit from Santa. The flower show runs until mid-January.
Many people look forward to watching the Salute to Vienna concert on PBS on New Year’s Day. No need to go to Vienna to enjoy the real thing. Salute to Vienna at Roy Thomson Hall is celebrating a 23-year tradition in Toronto. Before heading to the concert, treat yourself to New Year’s Day brunch at the Royal York.

Christmas windows at The Bay, Queen and Bay.

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