That magical time is just around the corner. Everywhere you look colourful lights are being strung from houses, and beautiful emerald trees are being decorated. The familiar tune of festive songs fill the air, and before you know it, the holiday season is upon us.
Here in the Great Waterway, the celebration is a pretty big deal. From the Bay of Quinte to Cornwall and the Counties this entire region offers an assortment of prime destinations for those looking to get into the holiday spirit.
Without further delay, here is a collection of merry festivals, events, and other fun-filled activities that are sure to help get even the grouchiest of Scrooge into the spirit of the season.
Prince Edward County
Wassail is a tribute to an ancient tradition that commemorates the harvest and winter’s approach. It stems from the ancient phrases: “wæs hæil” (Middle English) and “ves heill” (Old Norse) both meaning: “Be in (good) health!”
The celebration involved “merrymakers” who would travel from house to house singing songs of joy, sharing in feasts, and raising a glass of delicious mulled cider or wine. Today, Wassail is wonderfully observed throughout The County by similar traditions including the ceremonial burying of grapevines to protect them from the approaching winter.
Wassail in the County
Visitors can take the self-guided route or join bus tours and experience a culmination of the cultural and agricultural elements that make The County’s Wassail celebrations so fantastic.
More information about tickets and participating locations can be found on the Prince Edward County Wine Growers Association’s website.
Macaulay House (Candlelight Wassail)
The halls of Picton’s Macaulay House are decked in the fashion of an 1850’s Christmas. Sample savoury heritage recipes, entertainment in the parlour and more!
You can also get your hands on some delicious plum pudding and other items in the gift shop. This heritage twist on the holidays is not one to miss!
Full details are available at the Prince Edward County Website.
Ameliasburgh Heritage Village
Bundle up and prepare for an afternoon of holiday cheer throughout the beautiful village of Ameliasburgh.
Take horse-drawn wagon rides that stop at various locations including the Town Hall, Library, a Masonic Lodge, the schoolhouse, and more!
Enjoy refreshments, crafting workshops for the kids, irresistible bake sales, and other festive themed events.
For details visit the Ameliasburgh Event Calendar.
Bay of Quinte
As the holiday season approaches, the Bay of Quinte transforms into a brightly lit winter wonderland. Several public parks and spaces are lovingly decorated with gorgeous lighting displays.
These vivid and vibrant displays of lights stem from a legendary local history and offer visitors some of the region’s most breathtaking evening walks alongside fantastic options for holiday shopping and dining.
Jane Forrester Park – Belleville
The annual displays of Jane Forrester Park draw thousands of people each year as the park is brought to life by way of brilliant lights and festive ambiance.
There are free coach buses on hand courtesy of Franklin Tours. They will pick up visitors and residents from locations throughout Belleville and shuttle them to and from the event.
This magical lighting ceremony is Belleville’s official Christmas kick-off.
More information is available on Belleville’s website.
Frankford Christmas Fantasy of Lights – Trenton
This event offers visitors a double feature which combines the 28th annual Frankford Santa Claus parade and the Fantasy of Lights.
Enjoy a classic parade featuring Santa himself. Find elaborate floats and fun for the whole family starting at 2 p.m. Later on the Fantasy of Lights kicks off with entertainment by local musician Dave Charron. Follow that up with fireworks and more!
More info is available on the Bay of Quinte website.
The Doug Whitney Fantasy of Lights – Trenton
Doug Whitney was a dedicated Trenton City Councillor who served five terms and was well known and loved throughout the community.
To commemorate his service to the community and those whose lives were touched by Mr. Whitney, the Fantasy of Lights event at Fraser Park has been dedicated to his memory.
Tour magical waterfront light displays while listening to classic holiday tunes, enjoy hot chocolate and other tasty treats. Event details are available on the Quinte West website.
Land O Lakes
The Land O Lakes region is well known for its summer activities. As winter approaches, however, it transforms into a snowy landscape filled with a variety fun activities. The holiday celebrations and the welcoming of the coming New Year are felt throughout the area – and everyone’s invited.
Downtown Napanee Big Bright Light Show
Napanee’s Big Bright Light Show is most certainly something to see. Once the lighting ceremony and block party kick off, this historic downtown strip transforms into Holiday Central.
Browse the shops under the glow of elegant lighting and window displays, and enjoy some scrumptious holiday munchables.
Parade of Lights – Napanee
Santa is coming to Greater Napanee on Saturday, December 3rd for the Greater Napanee Parade of Lights!!
Join in the fun as hundreds line the streets and celebrate the holidays with over 70 decorative floats, music, and good old-fashioned fun!
Details are available at the Greater Napanee website.
This may sound biased since I am a certified and unapologetic Kingstonian, but the Limestone City and surrounding area(s) have everything required to get you amped up for Advent.
In addition to historically themed window shopping, ice-skating in Springer Market Square or the variety of delicious dining options; there are several holiday-themed events that I’m sure Yule fall in love with.
Snow Much Fun
This is a relatively new addition to Downtown Kingston’s series of holiday/winter events. However, it offers a host of fun (FREE) activities for the whole family.
Take a spin on the Holiday Tour Trolley, shop the Holiday Market, Enjoy free ice skating, and epic live entertainment. Visitors can also donate to the Kingston Toy Drive, chill with Santa and participate in fun holiday themed games. Event details are available on the City of Kingston website.
Pro-tip: Make sure you score some of the maple taffy on snow. If “omg” were a flavour, this would be it.
More information on skating and rentals are also on CityofKingston.ca.
Little Cataraqui Creek
Winter is by far the most popular time of year at Little Cataraqui Creek. For as long as I can remember people have gathered here each year for cross-country skiing, skating, snowshoeing and scenic hikes.
Equipment is available for rent at the Outdoor Centre. And for complete newbies like myself – they offer cross-country ski lessons as well
The CRCA hosts a series of events each year leading up to and after the holidays making Little Cat Creek a prime destination for near limitless winter fun.
Below is a convenient round-up of events fit for the whole family.
For more information on all CRCA events visit: CRCA.ca.
Starting December 1st, Fort Henry National Historic Site will undergo a transformation of mystical proportions.
“In the magical land of Lumina Borealis, winter’s secrets are kept safe. Visitors will journey across a frozen landscape and into another world, to reignite their winter spirit. They will be guided from ice to fire, and from darkness to light, finding their way through a mysterious land of enchantment, to the very source; where Winter’s secrets are yearning to be discovered and unlocked.”
Rideau Heritage Route
This historically rich area of the Great Waterway possesses a uniquely evocative atmosphere for scenic drives, beautiful hikes and a bevy of activities for all ages. From Westport to Merrickville and beyond, the Rideau Heritage Route is a genuinely captivating destination for those seeking the holiday spirit.
Winter Walks at Foley Mountain Conservation Area
After the year’s first blanketing of snow Westport’s Foley Mountain becomes an ideal place to take a romantic winter hike with that special someone.
There are trails suited for multiple skill levels, offering hikers a nice choice of options for exploring this 800-acre conservation area and spotting wildlife.
For more information, check out this post right here on the Great Waterway.
Old Stone Mill National Historic Site’s: Christmas at the Mill
I’ve written about this majestic mill previously, but during the Christmas season this awe-inspiring example of history hosts a holiday event for the ages.
The building is lit up with candlelight as part of Delta’s Celebrating the Season event – and has a unique gift shop open for guests.
For more information see DeltaMill.org.
An Evening Stroll through Lower Beverley Lake Park
The “Celebrating the Season” event involves over 80 THOUSAND lights and a series of seasonal displays that is sure to amaze. Along with this vivid visual display, there are wagon rides which are sure to add a particular element of joy to what is already a grand event.
For more information see BeverlyLakePark.com.
The Merry Christmas Shoppe
The aptly named “Merry Christmas Shoppe” is the biggest Christmas store between here and Ottawa – and to top it all off, it’s open all year long.
Explore two floors bursting with everything ‘Christmas’ and enjoy a one stop shop for all your decorations and other Yuletide supplies.
Annual Christmas Market
This popular event is held at the Brockville Farmers’ Market and kicks off in December. This market features local crafts and other items of seasonal interest.
Check BrockvilleFarmersMarket.ca for news and updates.
Brockville Rotary Santa Claus Parade
Still making his way across the region, Jolly ol’ St. Nick always makes a stop in Brockville for the Rotary Santa Claus Parade.
This year, volunteers will be collecting non-perishable food items to support the Brockville Food Bank so make sure you bring lots of items to contribute.
Also, don’t let your kids forget to bring their letters to Santa to hand to the volunteers who will also be collecting them along the route. Translation: You’ll be able to get your wishlists to Mr. Claus nice and early.
For more information visit RotaryBrockville.com.
Cornwall & the Counties
At the Eastern edge of the Great Waterway lies Cornwall and the Counties – home to two particular holiday light festivals that are so epic they can likely be seen from space. This huge list of festive happenings throughout the region may be coming to a close – but don’t worry, we saved the best for last.
Upper Canada Village’s: Alight at Night
Bundle up and get ready for a festive and fun-filled evening stroll through a completely transformed holiday version of Upper Canada Village.
Close to one million lights are lovingly strung from the heritage buildings, trees, and fences of this historic village frozen in time. The end result is a truly unique and utterly captivating backdrop for this famous holiday festival. If that’s not enough – Santa will be visiting the festival from December 2nd to 23rd. Is there anywhere he can’t be?
Special Warning: Exposure to Alight at Night may result in exuberant outbursts of joy, spontaneous caroling and a persistent craving for eggnog and shortbread. Speak to your doctor to find out if Alight at Night is right for you.
Alight at Night is not a daily event. For detailed information on dates and times for Alight at Night visit: Alight at Night – Upper Canada Village.
As the saying goes: It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And frankly, I couldn’t agree more. The cider is mulling, the fires are crackling and I can already smell the aroma of festive feasts and hear the songs of unanimous cheer.
Regardless of how you celebrate the changing of the season, and the arrival of a New Year; whether it’s Hanukkah, Eid al-Fitr, Christmas or Festivus let it be merry, safe and filled with friends, family and those you love.
Plan Your Holiday Trip