12 holiday season events and activities in Toronto for families

Celebrate the season with these 12 holiday activities that are fun for the whole family.

In partnership with Tourism Toronto

Toronto Santa Claus Parade
Photo: Randy Landicho via Flickr.com

1. Santa Claus Parade
Ho, ho, ho! The 112th Toronto Santa Claus Parade hits the streets of downtown on Sunday, November 20. The much-loved event begins at 12:30 p.m. at Christie Pits, then winds its way east along Bloor Street, around Queen’s Park Circle, south on University Avenue, and east on Front Street before ending at St. Lawrence Market. Wear layers and arrive early to grab your spot. You can also watch the parade on CTV stations from 4:30 to 6 p.m. E.T.

When: November 20
More info: thesantaclausparade.com

Cavalcade of Lights Toronto
Photo: Stefan Ogrisek via Flickr.com

2. Cavalcade of Lights
This annual family-friendly celebration lights up Nathan Phillips Square, in front of city hall, on Saturday, November 26. Enjoy fireworks, live shows by Canadian musicians, a DJ skating party featuring characters from Disney’s Frozen, and the lighting of Toronto’s official Christmas tree. Last year’s 18-metre spruce sparkled with 700 ornaments and more than half a million LED lights—it took two weeks to decorate!

When: November 26, 7 p.m.
More info: toronto.ca

Toronto Christmas Market
Photo: Toronto Christmas Market

3. Toronto Christmas Market
Head to The Distillery Historic District for the Toronto Christmas Market, one of the city’s most charming holiday traditions. From November 18 to December 22, the cobblestone lanes will be transformed into a glittering, European-style market, complete with craftspeople and artisans, carollers, food vendors, beer gardens, activities for the kids (Santa, a Ferris wheel, a carousel and more), walking tours and even a visit from St. Nicholas on a white horse (November 29 at 6 p.m.). Admission is free on weekdays and opening night, and $6 on weekends starting at 5 p.m. on Fridays (or you can pay $20 for a fast pass that will let you skip the line).

When: November 18 to December 22, Tuesday to Sunday
More info: torontochristmasmarket.com

Jillian Vanstone in The Nutcracker. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
Jillian Vanstone in The Nutcracker. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

4. The Nutcracker
Beloved by audiences worldwide, The Nutcracker is once again gracing the stage at the National Ballet of Canada in December. Choreographed by James Kudelka, this elaborate production, set in 19th-century Russia, sees young siblings Marie and Misha embark on a fantastical dream journey, complete with dancing bears, snow maidens, unicorns and a visit to the Sugar Plum Fairy’s enchanted palace. Arrive early if you can—Nutcracker Story Time, featuring grown-up versions of Marie and Misha, takes place 45 minutes before each performance. Tickets start at $39 and vary by performance. Children’s prices are available, excluding performances on December 17, 18 and 24.

When: December 10 – 31
More info: national.ballet.ca

Skating at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto
Photo: Randy Landicho via Flickr.com

5. Skating at Nathan Phillips Square
Enjoy free outdoor family fun at this popular downtown rink, located in front of city hall. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. starting Saturday, November 26. (To check ice conditions, call 311 or click here.) Change rooms, lockers, washrooms, a snack bar and skate rentals are available. Be sure to take a selfie with the Toronto sign while you’re there!

When: Starting November 26
More info: toronto.ca

A Christmas Carol
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann, via Soulpepper

6. A Christmas Carol
Soulpepper Theatre Company’s critically acclaimed production of A Christmas Carol, based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel, returns to the stage this holiday season. Ebenezer Scrooge has zero holiday spirit, but three ghosts are determined to help him see the importance of charity and compassion. Recommended for ages eight and up. Tickets start at $32.

When: December 2 to 24
More info: soulpepper.ca

Colin Mochrie will narrate the TSO's production of The Twelve Days of Christmas
Colin Mochrie will narrate the TSO’s production of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Photo: Toronto Symphony Orchestra

7. The Twelve Days of Christmas
This festive sing-along concert from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, narrated by comedian Colin Mochrie, promises to be a delightful, hilarious event for the whole family. The orchestra will share the stage with the Highland Creek Pipe Band, Resonance Youth Choir and Tha Spot Holiday Dancers. Tickets start at $26.

When: December 9 at 7 p.m., and December 11 at 3 p.m.
More info: tso.ca

Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Photo: Razvan Orendovici via Flickr.com

8. Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve
And now for the other TSO! Catch American prog-rockers Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Air Canada Centre, blasting through The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. This eye-popping “rock holiday tradition” features holiday tunes and fan favourites. Don’t miss the band that The Washington Post has described as “Pink Floyd meets The Who and Andrew Lloyd Webber.” Tickets start at $34.50.

When: November 23
More info: ticketmaster.ca

Tafelmusik's Sing-Along Messiah at Massey Hall
Tafelmusik’s Sing-Along Messiah at Massey Hall. Photo: Gary Beechey

9. Messiah
Rejoice, fans of Handel’s Messiah—you can choose from three exquisite productions of this holiday tradition. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s performances, featuring guest vocalists and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, run from December 18 to 23 (prices start at $44.75). Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir offers two versions: Handel Messiah at Koerner Hall (December 16 to 19), and Sing-Along Messiah at Massey Hall (December 20), which sells out every year—and this is it’s 30th anniversary. Tickets start at $30 for each of Tafelmusik’s shows.

When: December 16-19 for Tafelmusik’s Handel Messiah; December 20 for Tafelmusik’s Sing-Along Messiah; and December 18-23 for the TSO’s production.
More info: tso.ca and tafelmusik.org

Hudson's Bay Christmas window Toronto
One of the five windows that make up Hudson’s Bay’s animated Christmas display. Photo: Hudson’s Bay

10. Holiday windows
Every year, Toronto puts on its holiday finery, and some of the prettiest, most dazzling examples are in the windows and walkways of city retailers. This year, the flagship Hudson’s Bay store at Queen and Yonge streets is sure to delight kids and adults alike with its five animated windows featuring an enchanted forest theme (see them along Queen). Around the corner on Yonge Street, the Saks Fifth Avenue windows bring together one-of-a-kind couture fashion and colourful candy in nine vignettes inspired by music boxes. But don’t stop there. Head up to Bloor Street to see Holt Renfrew’s stylish, always-edgy windows. In the past, they’ve riffed on themes from Moulin Rouge to Alice in Wonderland to the Northern Lights.

Christmas at Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto
Photo: Black Creek Pioneer Village

11. Black Creek Pioneer Village
Experience old-fashioned holiday fun at Toronto’s living history museum. Black Creek is a re-creation of an 1860s Ontario village. On weekends from November 19 to December 23, you can explore holiday traditions from that era, including Victorian dancing and tasty treats like roasted chestnuts and mincemeat tarts. On certain Saturdays (December 3, 10 and 17 from 6 to 9:30 p.m.), enjoy Christmas by Lamplight, when the village is aglow with candles. Visit the homes and workshops, listen to carollers and traditional folk music, and create ornaments to take home. Other events include a traditional Christmas dinner ($30 – $59; reservations required), Storytime with Santa ($22.50 – $25) and a gingerbread village contest. General admission to Black Creek is $15 for adults and $11 for kids ages five to 14 (kids four and under are free).

When: November 19 to December 23
More info: blackcreek.ca

12 trees exhibit at the Gardiner Museum
Photo: Gardiner Museum

12. Gardiner Museum’s 12 Trees: Good for the Earth
Each holiday season, the Gardiner Museum delights visitors with a dozen Christmas trees, beautifully decorated by well-known designers and artists. For this year’s 12 Trees exhibition, artists created tree installations that are focused on the handmade, that are made of recycled or sustainable materials, or that illustrate something that’s good for the Earth. Admission is $15 for adults and free for kids 18 and under.

When: November 18 to January 8
More info: gardinermuseum.on.ca

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