Johns Nature Conservancy near Kelowna

Stay Local For The Holidays: Creative Ways to Celebrate
the Season in Your Own Backyard

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Note: This story was originally published in 2020.

Holidays will be close to home this year, so we’re lucky that our British Columbia backyard offers ample opportunities to creatively celebrate the season and support local businesses too. Pop into your favourite neighbourhood boutique for the perfect Christmas gift and grab a meal to go at a restaurant nearby. Or take it outside, where there are still plenty of al fresco spaces to spread out and enjoy the crisp, cold air surrounded by sparkling lights and seasonal illuminations. Whatever you choose, wrap up warm, follow COVID safety protocols, and stay local as you get into the festive spirit this winter.

Holiday Touches | Fairmont Empress

For Victoria Locals

BC’s capital city embodies the quintessential Christmas experience with twinkling lights, festivities at the Fairmont Empress, and new twists on timeless traditions. 

Victoria is famous for its festive displays and once again the historic British Columbia Parliament Buildings will be lighting up smiles with sparkling lights around the landmark. To see even more shine, gather your house mates and embark on a holiday light tour around Greater Victoria with L.A. Limousines for a private peek of neighbourhood illuminations. 

See a showcase of gingerbread houses, which takes place across the city for the 12th year running, raising funds for Habitat for Humanity Victoria (until January 3). Holiday highlights continue at The Bay Centre where the Festival of Trees transforms the mall into a colourful forest (visit here for protocols). 

Victoria boasts boutiques selling all manner of gifts and goodies; wander down LoJo, Market Square, and Government and Fort streets to find special presents, and explore the alleys of Chinatown for more hidden gems. Head to Nordic Boulevard at Uptown Shopping Centre (until January 3) to see the outdoor Nordic-inspired skating rink, road mural, igloos, A-frame chalets, and 52-foot tree. For a memorable Christmas cuppa, stop at Murchie’s Fine Tea & Coffee for seasonal tea and coffee blends, and treat the vegans in your crew to meatless versions of holiday classics at The Very Good Butchers.

Step back in time with a visit to the Fairmont Empress to sample Christmas at the Castle seasonal offerings, from hot chocolate or mulled wine and s’mores on the veranda, cuddled up in front of the fire, to curated Christmas cocktails at Q Bar and a holiday-themed afternoon tea, complete with local carolers. December also brings Christmas to Craigdarroch Castle, where authentic Victorian traditions are brought to life in the castle’s period rooms. 

Indulge in a Victoria staycation at Magnolia Hotel & Spa, or visit for a day of relaxation at the spa. Soak in the pools at Oak Bay Beach Hotel or order the holiday brunches and dinners to go

Winter is a special time at The Butchart Gardens, where you can see unique characteristics of plants that show their true beauty when the temperature drops. Explore the Gardens from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily (closed Christmas Day) and see bright-coloured branches, moss and lichen growing on trees, winter flowering shrubs, and early bulbs. You can almost feel the energy of what’s to come: shrubbery bursting with buds, plants ready to flourish, and spring bulbs quietly awaiting their bloom.

Up for a drive? Discover the delights of Christmas at Merridale Farm, 50 minutes from downtown Victoria, where restaurant guests can feast on farm-to-fork meals and sip apple cider before wandering through the orchard on the faerie walk to take in twinkling light displays.

Capilano Suspension Bridge | Ian Harland

For Vancouver Locals

Escape to the mountains for a winter wonderland, see the bright lights of the city’s big attractions, and enjoy festive foodie fun with a feast at home for the holidays. 

Vancouver’s literal backyard is a snowy paradise of North Shore Mountains where you’ll find opportunities to enjoy the fresh powder with a skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing trip to Cypress Mountain, Grouse Mountain, and Mt Seymour. Check for restrictions and follow COVID protocols for a safe trip to shred. 

Want to see sparkly lights? Take physical distancing to new heights at the twinkling Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (lights are on during the day), or see how St Paul’s Lights of Hope brightens up Burrard Street until January 4 (with an option to livestream from home) and Granville Island Festive Lights brings seasonal fun to the shops and bars from sunset to 10 p.m. daily (until January 3).

Gastown gets year-round pretty illuminations and the holidays are the perfect time to explore the independent boutiques and cafes here. Or head to The Polygon Gallery’s Holiday Shop on the North Shore, where you’ll also find a seasonal pop-up by Little Mountain Shop in the adjoining space. Snag homewares, ceramics, candles, paper goods, and more from a Canadian, mostly local, women-led vendor lineup. There are also original and hard-to-find brands, and the items may be more exclusive, given that vendors won’t be displaying at additional holiday markets this year.

You don’t even need to leave your car to feel festive this season! Vancouver will be showcasing its very first drive-through festive experience when PNE Winter Lights opens with a 2-km route that takes you on “A magical journey to Santa” through nine themed lands, from the musical Merry & Bright forest to the ice-cool Polar North (December 11–13 & 17–23). 

Holidays at home are all about feasting, and with a little help from local restaurants, there are plenty of festive options for foodies. Celebrate with a helping hand from celebrity chef David Hawksworth and his Hawksworth at Home holiday dishes, such as the Turkey-to-Go, a complete three-course Christmas dinner. Ramen lovers can stop at Kinton Ramen at UBC to pick up a seasonal truffle turkey bowl, and budding chefs can try their hand at creating a Holiday Feast or Holiday Baking with Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) on Granville Island. 

And if you just want to curl up next to a fire? Take a house mate for a COVID-friendly dinner at a local restaurant, where cocktails and canapés take on a decadent, cozy feel in front of a roaring fireplace.  

Lights on the Promenade | Tourism Harrison

For Fraser Valley Locals

Positively glowing with festive cheer, the Fraser Valley welcomes a new drive-through light experience, lakeside illuminations, and shop-local initiatives this winter. 

Things look a little different this year, but the good news is that Langley is home to a drive-through, contactless festive experience. Take a trip through Glow Langley at Milner Village Garden Centre (December 8 – January 2) to enjoy a 15-minute journey through dazzling landscapes created by nearly a million lights. Each vehicle pass includes a complimentary bag of mini-donuts and popcorn, plus a souvenir Glow Christmas ornament, to keep the festive spirit alive. 

Choose your own Christmas tree at a Langley U-cut Christmas tree farm, including Churchland Tree Farm, where you can select the ideal Christmas centerpiece for your home. Also in Langley, families can sample holiday flavours at Krause Berry Farms & Estate Winery’s Waffle Bar; order the pumpkin waffle and take a seat in the enclosed, heated, and physically-distanced eating area, open Wednesdays through Sundays. Before you leave, pick up your pre-ordered holiday baking (e.g., fudge, frozen pies) and a mulled wine kit for home. Still have steam? Have your designated driver take the “Langley Loop” to discover six breweries found along the Fraser Valley Ale Trail. (Keep an eye out for seasonal pours and COVID protocols.)

Further southeast in Abbotsford, Maan Farms is offering a Christmas Drive-Thru (by reservation). Pull up with your car for a holiday-themed breakfast of chocolate berry crepes and red-and-green ice cream, safely served old school drive-in style by one of their festive helpers. Tip: Be sure to stock up on last-minute gift ideas, like the “Wallow in Self-Pity” box, featuring the farm’s own wine and some of Mamma Maan’s tastiest offerings (think: butter chicken, chickpea curry, and more).

Tip: Be sure to stock up on last-minute gift ideas, like the “Wallow in Self-Pity” box, featuring the farm’s own wine and some of Mamma Maan’s tastiest offerings (think: butter chicken, chickpea curry, and more).

Look out for A Very Merry Shopportunity in Chilliwack, further northeast, where you can explore your town with a special map of local shopping and dining spots: Collect a stamp at each place to enter a contest to win prizes, and be sure to follow protocols as you go.

Finally, for those lucky enough to have Harrison Hot Springs close to home, head to the town’s promenade, where Sasquatch-sized social distancing is encouraged as visitors wrap up with a warm hat (don’t forgot your mask) to stroll along the village where Christmas trees, lamp posts draped in garland, and painted storefront windows and light displays warm the season.

Quails' Gate Winery | Talbot Photography

For Kelowna Locals

Wine country comes alive for the Christmas season, with snowy staycations, support for local artisans, and festive foodie experiences at the wineries around Kelowna. 

Stay close to home at a luxurious lakeside resort for a well-earned rest or make the most of the season with an outdoor adventure such as a snowshoe jaunt along the Myra Canyon Trestles or a winter hike at Johns Family Nature Conservancy Regional Park

Warm up afterwards with a glass of mulled wine around the outdoor fire pit at Mt. Boucherie Estate and experience a Reserve tasting of four very special wines. Krafty Kitchen + Bar is also keeping winters warm with their Fondue Sundays, weekly dips that feature a mixture of local wine, Kirsch liqueur, and a blend of the traditional Emmental and gruyere along with Canadian cheddar. Scoop it up with smoked farmers sausage, toasted baguette, seasonal veggies, local apples, and crunchy dill pickles. Space is physically distanced (read: limited), so call ahead for reservations.

If you’d rather stay put, opt instead for a Private Virtual Wine Tasting, courtesy of CedarCreek Estate Winery. Choose your preferred winery tasting package, select a time and date, share the mailing addresses of all who plan to attend, and raise a glass to your nearest and dearest from the comforts of home.

Santa will still be stopping by this Christmas, with a new option of watching the Santa Parade from your vehicle as a COVID-compliant way to experience the festivities. Save some time for shopping local and visit Love for Kelowna for a full list of local artisan goodies available at the Visitor Centre (and online), including Kelowna Vibes hats and hoodies, raw honey from Hiveology, and decorative gourds made by Janine Lott, a member of the Okanagan Syilx Nation. 

’Tis the season to indulge, and QB Gelato and Café‘s eggnog gelato delivers with decadent Madagascar vanilla, D Dutchmen Dairy Eggnog, and a touch of rum. Adults can also scoop the Baileys and coffee gelato (a local favourite), while the milk and cookies option promises a sweet treat for the kiddos (or Santa).

Get the holiday spirit to go, thanks to Summerhill Pyramid Winery‘s holiday cookie boxes: Naughty (maple bourbon snickerdoodles, Baileys chocolate crinkles, and more) Nice (ginger molasses treats and whipped shortbread, to name a few), Vegan (date, banana, and coconut cookies, among others), or Gluten-Free (coconut macaroons, double chocolate peppermint, and more). Tip: Order a bottle of bubbly to go with your cookie cravings. Continue with the online love, and help “bake the world a better place” when you order a holiday pie in support of the Central Okanagan Food Bank as a sweet gesture this season. Because, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

Like you, we’re passionate about exploring BC. But now is the time for us to stay local and support local businesses with just our immediate household. Good news! Limited capacities mean more space to enjoy the experiences—wear masks and move about respectfully to make it a safe visit for all. Some attractions or activities require advance bookings, limit group numbers, and require masks, so it’s a good idea to check before purchasing tickets or heading out. Visit here to be in the know before you go. As orders are changing constantly, please be sure to check the latest from the Provincial Health Officer here

Header video: Snowshoeing along the Myra Canyon Trestles | Nic Collar

Header image: Johns Nature Conservancy| Seger Nelson and Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association

The Polygon Gallery Gift Shop | The Polygon Gallery

BC GIFTS For Everyone in Your Bubble (and Beyond)

We may not be able to travel right now, but our holiday shopping can travel further than we think. Stay local this holiday and let’s support BC businesses and celebrate how far we’ve come together this year.

See Gift Guides