By: Gabrielle McLaren
Although it’s tempting to write that last exam, wrap yourself up in blankets, and go into hibernation until next semester, don’t let the break slip between your fingers. There are plenty of fun, and more importantly free or low-budget, things to do in Vancouver while the weight of studenthood is lifted from your shoulders — regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not.
- When: Every weekend from November 17–December 17
- Where: The Ellis Building, 1024 Main Street
- Cost: $3 for a single day entry, $5 for all weekend entry
One of the best ways to get your hands on completely unique Christmas presents is to support independent artists and vendors. Even if you’re not shopping, there are plenty of things to see. The Holiday Markets will host a rotating cast of 40–50 vendors at each market, and food trucks will be waiting for you just outside.
- When: November 22–December 30
- Where: 6690 216 Street, Langley, BC
- Cost: $20 per ticket online, or $25 at the gate
You don’t need to celebrate Christmas to admire the effect that 500,000 lights spanned across 103,000 feet can have. Langley’s Milner Village Garden Centre will be completely lit up from November 22 to December 30. The display will also include food trucks, a bar, four different light gardens, craft vendors, and a 210-foot musical light tunnel.
- When: November 25–January 5
- Where: Burnaby Village Museum, 6501 Deer Lake Avenue
- Cost: Free gate admission, carousel rides are $2.65 each
If you’re the type to get nostalgic as the holidays come around, the heritage village in Burnaby will be decorated and lit up. Activities range from heritage baking to sing-alongs and visiting hours with Father Christmas. If you stop by the ice cream parlour, you can also pick up cards for their free Twelve Days of Christmas Scavenger Hunt, which will send you exploring the entire village. Join them for the launch of the season from 4:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m. on December 2, where you can catch the tree-lighting ceremony and enjoy some refreshments.
- When: December 1–end of February 2018
- Where: 800 block of Robson Street, between Hornby and Howe Street
- Cost: FREE
Just behind the Vancouver Art Gallery, you can recreate Bambi’s slip-and-slide skating misadventures, or enjoy a picturesque date surrounded by snowflakes. Skating is free from 9:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and from 9:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays. No skates? No problem! You can rent a pair for $5 (make sure to bring cash, not debit or credit, for that).
- When: December 2–17
- Where: Multiple locations
- Cost: FREE
Fifty years ago, a single little boat decked out in Christmas lights took to the sea. Now, over fifty cruise around Coal Harbour and False Creek. Privately owned vessels and commercial cruises alike join in, which means that you can buy a ticket aboard any number of ships for dinner, a show, and a ride. If the budget won’t stretch that far, you can watch the parade from shore-side events put on by the Carol Ships Parade of Lights Society throughout December.
- When: December 2, 3, 9, and 10 (movies showing at 7:30 p.m. or 9:00 p.m.)
- Where: 3650 East Kent Avenue South
- Cost: $20 per parking pass (8 people per car)
From Home Alone (and Home Alone 2, of course) to Elf and Die Hard, all the classics will be screened by Fresh Air Cinema. Pack up some friends, or a date, and enjoy the nearby food trucks to make it dinner and a show. Bring yourself some blankets and hot chocolate, and enjoy sobbing to It’s a Wonderful Life from the privacy of your own vehicle this holiday season.
- When: December 4–early January
- Where: Hyatt Regency, 655 Burrard Street
- Cost: FREE, with donations.
Every year schools, families, cooking institutions, and community groups across Vancouver build and decorate gingerbread houses to be displayed at the Hyatt Regency hotel’s ballroom. There’s no entrance fee to peruse, admire, and vote for your favourite gingerbread creation, but if you enjoy the delicious sights you can leave a donation which will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
- When: December 7, 6:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.
- Where: Water Street, Gastown
- Cost: FREE, donations collected
If you can’t get enough of Christmas music but need a break from Mariah Carey, the Yule Duel is for you. The streets of Gastown will be taken over by choirs singing their hearts out to a panel of judges. All profits from these carolers with a cause are benefiting May’s Place hospice downtown. You can donate to contribute to your favourite choir online, or you can bring cash.
- When: December 12,12:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
- Where: 209 rue Lebleu, Coquitlam, BC
- Cost: FREE
Need to practice your French? La Société francophone de Maillardville (The Francophone Society of Maillardville) is putting on a Christmas party that will combine live francophone music, a Christmas ornament workshop, refreshments, and a slew of French-Canadian Christmas traditions, Réveillon et autres.
When: December 12, 5:00 PM
Where: The Vancouver Art Gallery
As it turns out, the tallest menorah in Canada is right here in Vancouver, and it will be lit on December 12 to celebrate the first day of Hanukkah 2017. Live music and other celebrations will follow.
Since you’re nearby, you may as well pop into the Vancouver Art Gallery since admission is by donation every Tuesday from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- When: December 15–January 21 (Closed December 25)
- Where: The PNE at Hastings and Renfrew Street
- Cost: $19 per adult, $15.50 if you book a group of 10+ in advance
Stop by this festival to see thirty-five beautiful silk Chinese lanterns lighting up the night. Chinese food and snacks will be sold on site, and you can catch live performances ranging from dance to acrobatics twice a night.
- When: December 21
- Where: Multiple locations
- Cost: FREE, suggested donation of $5 a person
The 24th annual Winter Solstice Lantern Festival will light up the darkest night of the year, from Yaletown to Strathcona. You can purchase a handmade lantern of your own or, better yet, register online for a lantern-making workshop from the Secret Lantern Society. Because the festival is so large and dispersed, it’s worth taking a look at their online schedule to make sure you don’t miss the fire shows, the Labyrinth of Light, lantern processions, or live music that interest you most.
Volunteering opportunities in Vancouver
December is a great time to give back, whether it’s part of your celebrations or just because you have the time. Make sure to do your homework about where, when, and what kind of a helping hand is needed and make sure to contact organizations in advance so that they have time to process and organize any kind of paperwork. Ideas include:
- Greater Vancouver Foodbank
- Carnegie Community Centre
- Ignite the Warmth (This student-based organization needs volunteers to wrap toy donations and for their annual blanket drive).
- Be a Santa to a Senior (This NGO connects isolated seniors who may not receive any Christmas gifts with secret Santas in their area).