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If you want to get into the holiday mood, there’s no better place to go than the historic Distillery District for the annual Toronto Christmas Market. Victorian-era Gooderham and Worts buildings provide a Charles Dickens backdrop as costumed carollers parade the grounds, outdoor fires flicker and children with eyes big as saucers glimpse Father Christmas, who makes regular appearances on his majestic white horse. A huge, twinkly Christmas tree anchors the outdoor event, which is chock full of vendors selling crafts, gifts and yummy seasonal treats. Children and adults also delight in riding the carousel and Ferris wheel.
“The magic and romance of Christmas is entwined with nostalgia. We want to create traditions so that our visitors can have memories and experiences that bring them together,” explains Mathew Rosenblatt, executive producer of the event.
As Rosenblatt notes, this is a place where families, couples and groups of friends can get into the spirit of the season. Don’t be fooled into thinking this will be a rushed shopping expedition. A visit to the market requires time to soak in the happy atmosphere, but be sure to wear warm clothing because the entire experience is outside. Peek in the open-air wooden cabins that line the cobblestone streets and you’ll find lots of unique items including whimsical, sparkly decorations, jewellery, soy wax candles in tea cups, hand-knit scarves, mittens, fleece hoodies and Christmas movie memorabilia (think Grinch or Charlie Brown).
This market is equally about the food. Shopping can lead to grumbling tummies easily sated with veal schnitzel on a warm pretzel bun, grilled cheese on artisanal bread, grilled Oktoberfest sausage on an egg bun with mustard and sauerkraut, or that year-round crowd pleaser, poutine.
There’s also a heap of decadent, sugary treats on offer. Indulge your sweet tooth with strudels, Bavarian churros, German baked goods such as stolen and spitzkuchen, frosted, cinnamon glazed nuts, fresh-made donuts, gingerbread cookies (even a life-sized Gingerbread House!), handmade shortbread, and fudge. A unique treat to try is a ‘chimney stax,’ a special Eastern European baked roll that looks like a long, hollow croissant, or chimney. Crisp on the outside and soft inside they come in a variety of flavours that are sweet and savory. The buttercrunch version is covered in Skor bar bits while savory options include cheesy garlic. You can even get one made into a turkey and bacon sandwich. These are great to munch on as you peruse the vendor’s cabins.
Hot chocolate will please the kids, but if you want an adult beverage, gather round the fire at a hospitality lounge for a mug of Gluhwein (mulled wine), a hot toddy, a variety of beers or a Christmas cocktail such as Jägermeister with hot apple cider. Choose from the Mill Street Beer Garden, El Catrin Winter Lounge presented by Sleemans, Wines of the World holiday lounge or Holiday Spirits Square.
“Whether it is sipping hot toddies or enjoying the twinkling light canopies, the allure of the Toronto Christmas Market features endless opportunities to reminisce about the old and to experience the new, so much so that we attract visitors from all over the world,” says Rosenblatt. He’s not kidding. The market was ranked one of the top 10 holiday markets in the world by Fodor’s Travel and was included in USA Today’s 10Best.com Holiday Shopping Wintertime Fun guide.
Music also adds to the festive atmosphere. Santa’s Elves Sing-alongs pop up daily as do concerts and folk dance displays. Each evening features a different type of music: Bluegrass and folk music on Tuesdays, world music on Wednesdays, classical Thursdays, jazz on Fridays, pop on Saturdays, instrumental ensembles on Sunday afternoons and choirs Sunday nights. At 6 p.m. on Sundays, Mill Street Brewery hands out music sheets so everyone can join the caroling at the main stage.
If you worry that the joy and romance of the holidays has vanished, don’t. Instead, wrap yourself up warmly and head to the Toronto Christmas Market where the magic is very much alive.
Tues.-Thurs. Noon-9 p.m.
Fri. Noon-9 p.m.
Sat. 10am-10 p.m.
Sun. 10am-9 p.m.
Admission: $6 on Sat. & Sun. Free weekdays.
Santa’s Elves Sing-along,
Tues-Friday 5 p.m.,
Sat. and Sun 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Full entertainment listings are under event calendar at torontochristmastmarket.com.