Top Five Things to Do in Montreal at Christmas Time
Every city has its own holiday traditions. Montreal’s French Catholic heritage plays a big part in the city’s observances of one of the most important calendar holidays, which is shown in the many concerts and church services. The penthouse of the McGill Tower is lit red and green, part of the Old Port concourse is converted into a skating rink, and everyone is invited to participate in activities in and around the city. Here are this writer’s top five picks for Christmas fun in Montreal.
Santa Claus Parade
The holiday rush begins in mid-November as Santa rides down Saint Catherine Street, the city’s main thoroughfare and shopping area, in an annual tradition that dates back to 1925. Regardless of weather, thousands of people line the street to see marching bands, acrobatic teams, the Christmas Fairy, and of course Santa himself. A historical tidbit: originally, many of the floats from the Toronto Christmas Parade were transported to Montreal for re-use, but the practise ceased in 1970.
Ogilvy’s Christmas Window
For 67 holiday seasons, the large window of the Ogilvy’s clothing store on Saint Catherine Street has displayed a mechanically-animated winter scene courtesy of the German toymaker Steiff. It’s a familiar sight for Montrealers, many of whom make special trips downtown just to see it. Woodland creatures including bears, monkeys, and frogs work and play in an Alpine-themed setting. There are two scenes that are alternated every other year, The Enchanted Village and The Mill in the Forest.
Fire On Ice
On Saturday evenings during the Christmas season, the sky over the Old Port lights up. Spectacular fireworks are timed to the sounds of video game soundtracks to create a magical show for all members of the family.
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens presents the enchanting tale of young Clara, whose beloved godfather gives her a carved wooden nutcracker as a gift. Waking in the night, Clara finds herself in the middle of a war between rats and tin soldiers; her nutcracker transforms into a prince and rescues her, sweeping her away on a magical adventure. Set to the music of Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, this ballet has been re-interpreted many times and remains a holiday staple.
From December until February, Montreal’s Place des Festivals is transformed into an open-air interactive museum. An ice palace with rotating polycarbonate prisms reflects light patterns across the surrounding area. Visitors are invited to move the prisms and discover more variations of colour and sound. At night, the “Facinsoscope” projects the sights and sounds of an early 20th century carnival onto the walls of eight nearby buildings.