Family life

Most memorable holiday kickoff ever!

Tracy Chappell took her girls to Casa Loma for some holiday magic.

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Avery and Anna spend some quality time with Santa at Casa Loma. Photo: Tracy Chappell

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

This weekend, we took the girls to Casa Loma, which is a real-life majestic castle that was built by Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt in the early 1900s. It sits atop a hill (as a castle should!) here in Toronto, and we were excited to finally make the trek there for their Christmas celebrations. Every year, it’s been booked by the time we got around to it. (I think this was the only thing we’ve been on top of this holiday season.)

The Breakfast with Santa event required us to be at that castle on top of the hill by 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday in a snowstorm. But I will stop at nothing to make my princesses happy! I’m not sure if they realized what we were getting into — I know I didn’t remember how cool Casa Loma was from the time I was there as a kid — but it’s a very impressive place, built to look like a medieval castle even though it’s only 100 years old. We’ve made our rounds of the usual family-friendly attractions over the years, but I think this is one that will really stand out for them. The expansive rooms, the wide hallways, the big staircase, the enormous Christmas tree in the foyer — the grand-ness of it all really wowed Anna and Avery. “It’s like Belle’s castle!” Avery exclaimed.

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Then they discovered the other cool stuff: the secret passages to the upstairs and the basement; the narrow spiral staircase up to the turret (Avery was a little scared to go up all the way); the tunnel that travels under the street outside, and leads to stables and a greenhouse (Anna said it was too cold and stinky to walk the tunnel, so Avery and I explored that part on our own). We found out that Mary Pellatt, Henry’s wife, was the first commissioner of the Girl Guides, so Anna and Avery loved seeing what their uniforms looked like way back.

The Breakfast with Santa was in the conservatory, which was definitely my favourite room, with lots of windows and amazing stained glass artwork adorning the ceiling. At the event, Santa wandered around and talked to the kids and posed for photos, while they ate pancakes and fruit. Though my girls were both a bit shy with him at first, Anna eventually went up to talk to him and it was a nicer experience than having to line up at the mall to snap a few pics. (We parents sat along the walls of the room, so the kids could take centre stage. We ate from a light buffet and had the absolute best croissants I’ve ever tasted. Melt in your mouth. I may have had two.)

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The Breakfast with Santa price gave us the chance to wander the castle after we were finished in the conservatory, participate in an old-fashioned sing-a-long at the big Christmas tree, and then watch a two-part performance of Peter Pan — part of which took place in the conservatory, and the other in the incredible library. The performance was a bit odd — sort of artsy — and I wasn’t sure if the kids would enjoy it, but they said they did. There was also another chance to see Santa on the throne where he usually resides at Casa Loma — and this time he was handing out candy canes, so both Anna and Avery were willing to pose for pictures. (There was also a gingerbread house decorating event going on somewhere, but we didn’t pay to do that.)

The Breakfast with Santa experience cost $25 per person (adults have to pay this price as well), and although it was pricey, I am really glad we went. The girls loved exploring the castle and we never felt rushed or crowded. There have been plenty of places we’ve gone to in our seven years as parents that I haven’t felt were worth the cash you have to cough up, but this wasn’t one of them. Maybe because the girls have read so many stories about princesses and castles, it was cool for them to walk the halls and imagine that some fictional royalty once did, too. Or maybe the rich, intriguing history of Casa Loma was so fascinating to me and Sean that we got just as much out of the day as the girls. Maybe more. That was a nice surprise. It was neat to talk to the girls about what Henry and Mary Pellatt might have done in all of the rooms, if they read the thousands of books lining the library shelves, and why they decided to build secret passageways in the office. (The secret passageways were really the key to our intrigue!) We might head back in the summer to check out the grounds and the gardens, because it was far too cold to wander outside.

I have felt so rushed this holiday season, and so behind in every aspect of Christmas preparations, so it was lovely to slow right down and have this day to be with my favourite people, and enjoy something special and magical to kick off our holidays together. Yes, it cost us $100, but it’s a Christmas memory we’ll all definitely tuck away for safe keeping.

What special things does your family do over the holidays?