Steeped in French Canadian tradition and German folklore, these five markets are guaranteed to fill you with Christmas cheer
"Inspired by the Old World and influenced by the New", Toronto Christmas market, held in the city's historic Distillery District, offers all the charm of a traditional European market with a few Canadian twists. Visitors are entertained by Bavarian brass bands, organists and folk dancers from Slovenia and Ukraine. There are beer gardens too and festive bars serving hot rum and Christmas cocktails. Try pierogi (Polish dumplings) sharpened with sour cream and fried onions or poutine, a rib-sticking combination of French fries, gravy and soft cheese-curds. Invented in rural Quebec in the 1950s, the dish is one of Canada's guilty pleasures.
Toronto's market also boasts a life-size gingerbread house for the kids (no Hansel and Gretel-style witches with ovens though, thankfully) along with stalls selling Canadian beeswax candles, wooden toys and other traditional gifts. St Nicholas arrives on the 5th of December amid colourful processions, while a World Caroling Challenge is due to be held on the final day of the market (15th December).
The market is held between the 29th of November and the 15th of December 2013.
Kitchener is one of the oldest and largest German communities in Canada and boasts a market steeped in folklore and Teutonic tradition. Listen out for local resident Klaus, a German organ grinder, watch candle-lit processions and demonstrations by local blacksmiths and stop to buy delicate blown-glass ornaments, schnitzel, and stollen studded with sticky dried fruit. Nativity scenes and plays are staged across the weekend featuring characters such as Knecht Ruprecht (Ruprecht the farm hand). A companion of the German Saint Nicholas, Ruprecht carries a sack filled with sweets for good children and a bundle of switches for dealing with those whose behaviour leaves something to be desired.
The market, which celebrates its 17th anniversary this year, is held between the 5th and the 8th of December.
Founded in 1608 by French settlers, Quebec City is one of the oldest in North America. In the weeks before Christmas, the scent of pine-needles drifts through the streets of the historic centre where the nouvelle-French architecture glistens with lights. At Le Marché du Vieux-Port on Quai Saint-André traders sell hand-made decorations, woollen scarves, maple syrup and tourtiere, a meat pie eaten in Quebec around Christmas and Thanksgiving. The market coincides with the Quebec City Lights Festival, which marks the winter solstice on the 21st of December. More illuminations, along with ice-sculptures, can be found at the Festi Lumière in the city's aquarium.
In the first two weeks of December, the city also holds a German-style market while those in search of characterful Christmas presents should head to the city craft fair held between the 12th and the 22nd of December. Here you can find hand-thrown pots, intricate jewellery and winter furs.
Confit duck, pear cider, maple butter and salted caramels. Just four reasons to visit The Marché de Noël et des Traditions held in Longueuil, a suburb of Montreal on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River. The food, much of which comes from small independent producers and local farms, is the highlight here, though gifts are on offer too. Children can ride the wooden train which trundles through snowdrifts, between the garlanded stalls. Musicians and folk dancers provide festive entertainment and Santa is usually on hand to grant Christmas wishes.
December 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22, 2013.
Flaming bowls of feuerzangenbowle (“fire-tongs punch”) will keep you warm as you wander between the wooden chalets that fill the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza in central Vancouver. This traditional German drink involves a rum-soaked sugarloaf set ablaze and left to melt into a beaker of mulled wine. Along with baked apples and decadent Swiss raclette, it's just one of the winter treats available at Vancouver's Christmas market. The German-themed market is also the place to find painted beer steins, elegant lace-work decorations and many other handmade gifts. Poinsettias, Christmas lights and advent wreaths add a splash colour with an old-fashioned Christmas carousel, gospel choirs and string ensembles for entertainment.
If you're on the hunt for arty stocking-fillers, why not join the locals at the 40th annual Craft Circle Christmas Market? The market features hundreds of stalls with work by Canadian artisans including wood-turners, glass-blowers and toy makers. It's the perfect place to find a special Christmas gift.
The market runs from November 22 to December 24, 2013.