The Royal B.C. Museum’s decorated Old Town is a grand sight through the holiday season. Visits from Father Christmas are part of the schedule throughout December. Check online for times. Courtesy Royal BC. Museum

TESS VAN STRAATEN: Find Christmas cheer in the heart of Victoria

From the iconic Fairmont Empress to decorated Old Town, seasonal activities abound in the harbour

By Tess van Straaten

Monday Magazine columnist

It’s hard not to feel the Christmas cheer walking around downtown Victoria over the holidays. Shopfronts are decked out with seasonal displays and holiday lights twinkle everywhere you look.

“Victoria is magical during the holiday season,” Fairmont Empress Hotel marketing director Tracey Drake says. “The lights on all the buildings, the decorations on Government Street and the festive sailboats in the harbour create this fairytale landscape that says Christmas!”

Monday Magazine adventure columnist Tess van Straaten

Canada’s ‘castle on the coast,’ the historic Empress, is lit up at the end of November, sparking a very festive holiday season that includes carollers during afternoon tea and the fun, new tradition of S’mores on the Veranda overlooking the harbour.

“S’mores are the most fun you can have around a holiday fire and are adored by the very young and the very young at heart,” says Drake. “There’s something about crisp air, a warm fire and ooey-gooey chocolate marshmallow treats that make for the most memorable get-togethers.”

The B.C. Legislature also gets into the holiday spirit, swapping out some of the iconic building’s 4,000 exterior lights with red and green bulbs. This is the 35th year for the Christmas Lights Across Canada tradition, which takes place at legislatures across the country. This year’s B.C. light-up, happening Dec. 5, is a festive event with cookies, candy canes, hot cocoa and apple cider for attendees.

“Our tradition has been to have local choirs sing on the front steps, and this typically includes children’s choirs from the community as well as from public and independent schools,” acting Clerk of the House Kate Ryan-Lloyd says of the annual light-up event, which attracts hundreds of people.

Twenty-two strings of lights, with close to 1,800 bulbs, adorn the massive sequoia tree on the Legislature lawn. Inside, a towering 30-foot Christmas tree is prominently placed in the centre rotunda inside the legislative buildings.

“For over 30 years, the Fleming family and their business, the Saanichton Christmas Tree Farm, have donated a holiday tree to the Legislative Assembly,” Ryan-Lloyd says. “Assembly staff decorate the tree every year and holiday-themed tours are offered in December.”

Across the street, at the Royal BC Museum, Old Town is decked out in holiday cheer with historically accurate decorations and visits from Father Christmas himself.

“We’ve been decorating Old Town for at least 20 years and it’s a family tradition for many locals (to come and visit), and a nice change of pace,” says the RBCM’s Jana Stefan. “Similarly, our Father Christmas somehow seems a bit more wholesome and heartwarming than your typical mall Santa – apologies to mall Santas everywhere!”

Other seasonal highlights include lighting a candle a night on the menorah in Old Town throughout Hanukkah. Helmcken House also gets a historically-accurate holiday treatment, complete with a full Christmas feast laid on the table and decorations and greenery based on photographs of Dr. Helmcken’s family celebrations.

So whether it’s a new tradition or a long-cherished one, it’s easy to make some magical holiday memories in Victoria at this most magical time of year.

Find a full schedule of holiday events at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/visit/calendar/2019-12, or visit mondaymag.com/calendar and scroll through to December.

Previously by Tess van Straaten:

Chinatown Confidential: Colour, culture and tasty treats

Brentwood Bay bliss awaits

Getting away to the Gulf Islands

Taking a Walk on the Wild Side



editor@mondaymag.com

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Christmas lights brighten up the provincial legislature building and Government Street above the Inner Harbour causeway. Black Press file photo

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