The 50 best things to do in Toronto this winter

Sure, it’s freezing and there’s barely any sunlight, but we’ve rounded up the city's top cultural, arts and music events to get you to next spring


CITY

1. Kick off the season at the Cavalcade of Lights

Skating at Nathan Phillips Square is an iconic Toronto winter tradition that formally kicks off in grand style with the lighting of the city’s official Christmas tree. If a giant crowd, a 60-foot tree and a massive fireworks display is your thing, this is where you want to be. DJs Sean Sax and Dre Ngozi will soundtrack your skating experience, and this year’s live acts include some serious vocal power: local R&B and soul artist Tanika Charles and Canadian-born/New Zealand-based rockabilly artist Tami Neilson.

November 24 from 6 pm, at Nathan Phillips Square (100 Queen West). Free. toronto.ca/cavalcade

2. Let off steam at a Russian spa

The Greeks did it. The Romans, too. Shvitzing – or taking a sauna, if you prefer – goes back to the Neolithic Age. The earliest known public bathhouse, in the Indus Valley, dates to 2500 BC. In Toronto, public baths have been associated more with gay culture – Steamworks (540 Church) remains a Village hot spot after all these years. But successive waves of Korean (Seoul Zimzilbang, 382 Magnetic, ilovesauna.com) Turkish (Hammam Spa, 602 King West, hammamspa.ca) and Russian immigrants (Ambassador Club, 638 Sheppard West, 416-635-6510) have brought their own variations of sauna culture. All fit the bill when long winter nights are messing with your equilibrium.

3. Meet Santa at the Aurora Winter Festival  

Get a photo op with Santa, make crafts with elves or skate along a frozen pond that twists around light installations at the inaugural Aurora Winter Festival. Taking over the East Island at Ontario Place, this whimsical family-friendly event features amusement rides like a Ferris wheel and carousel, a 20-foot-tall tubing hill, a snow maze, an LED-lit dance floor, local markets, food gardens and live entertainment. 

November 29 to December 30. Ontario Place, East Island (955 Lake Shore West). $15-$20. aurorawinterfestival.com

4. Take a holiday outing on the beach

Kids are generally amused following Santa Claus down the boardwalk as he waves a staff at trees reaching 65 feet in the air, watching them light up in succession. More than 80,000 LEDs go into the DeClute’s Light Up The Beach, decorating the oaks, maples and willows lined up against Lake Ontario.

The event is free for all but will also be collecting donations to support addiction and mental health services at the Michael Garron Hospital.

November 30 at the bottom of Leuty Avenue. Accepting Donations. lightupthebeach.com

5. Send a card to an LGBTQ person behind bars

If you’re looking for a way to make a small difference this holiday season, head to this workshop, hosted by two-spirit, queer and trans community art festival Bricks And Glitter on December 15. Participants will make holiday cards to send to incarcerated queer and trans people in conjunction with Prisoner Correspondence Project Toronto in the hopes of sending warmth to marginalized people separated from their communities over the holidays.

December 15 at Unit 2 (163 Sterling). Donations welcome but not necessary. facebook.com/bricksandglitter

6. Light a lantern at the Winter Solstice Parade

Kensington Market is still repping pre-condofication Toronto flavour, and there’s no better way to experience it than at the neighbourhood’s 29th annual festival of lights. Marking the shortest and darkest day of the year, the Winter Solstice Parade started out as a group of 30-odd people and now attracts thousands who march through the market’s streets with drums, horns, lanterns, puppets and costumes. If your definition of festive is handmade, loud, commercial-free and fire-breathing, you should be here.

December 21. Info TBA. Free. kensingtonmarketbia.com

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Denise Militzer

Ice skating along the Bentway.

7. Skate at one of Toronto’s best outdoor rinks 

Take advantage of the plethora of skating venues, whether it’s twizzling at the Harbourfront’s rink during its DJ skate nights, gliding under the Gardiner at the Bentway Skating Trail or playing shinny at Dufferin Grove’s two rinks. All of these spots offer skate rentals.

Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), now open. Free. harbourfrontcentre.com  

The Bentway Skate Trail (250 Fort York), opens December 21 at noon. Free. thebentway.ca

Dufferin Grove Park (875 Dufferin), opens late November, weather permitting. Free. dufferinpark.ca

8. Visit Christmas past at Black Creek Pioneer Village

Toronto’s time capsule to the Dickens era will be hosting Family Christmas Weekends, where the location’s history actors recreate the traditions from Christmas past. On top of the chestnuts, guests can taste homemade mincemeat tarts, apple cider and flaming plum pudding.

Other events include Storytime With Santa (which is exactly what it sounds like, but also includes making seasonal cookies and crafts) Christmas By Lamplight is an evening tour with all the aforementioned goodies and Tales From The Haunted Walk adds a little nightmare before Christmas.

Select dates until December 23 at Black Creek Pioneer Village (1000 Murray Ross Pkwy). Various Prices. blackcreek.ca

9. Explore your inner Disney prince or princess

A totally adequate substitute to splurging on a trip to Disney World is splurging on tickets to Disney On Ice.

This winter’s show is called 100 Years Of Magic, which isn’t exactly accurate, but I guess 96 Years doesn’t have the same ring to it. The show counts the classic Mouse House characters (from Mickey, Minnie, Goofy) among its cast along with characters from The Lion King to Finding Nemo. But really, today’s youngsters are just waiting for Frozen’s Elsa and Anna, who are a perennial hit, especially for a show on ice.

Word to the wise. Pick up cheap glow sticks, necklaces and wands (perhaps at Party City or Dollarama) before you go, unless you want to be suckered into paying $20 a pop for them at the event.

January 25 to 29 at the Scotiabank Arena (40 Bay). $32-$189. disneyonice.com

10. Our sports teams are good now – go see one of them!

On the frustrating pendulum of Toronto sports fandom, it’s rare for all our teams to be good at the same time. The Jays are in rebuilding mode, which means it’s time for our cold-weather teams to shine. With new star players on both the Leafs and Raptors (John Tavares and Kawhi Leonard, respectively), the city’s hockey and basketball championship hopes are better than they’ve been in years. That means tickets are hard to come by, of course. But there are always the farm teams – the Toronto Marlies and Raptors 905. 

Various prices. ticketmaster.ca

11. Try urban snowshoeing 

It might seem like an activity exclusive to cottage country, but there are plenty of good trails in Toronto for snowshoeing. Beginners and families can take leisurely hikes through High Park or in Rouge National Urban Park, which features trails ranging from 500 metres to 7.6 kilometres. If you want full-day excursions, head to Tommy Thompson Park, which offers 10 kilometres of tranquil trails, or take the ferry to the Island and trek from Ward’s Island to Centre Island. Just be sure to dress warm and pack a lunch since it’s chillier there than on the mainland and all restaurants are closed for the season. If you don’t own your own pair, it’s only $15 per day to rent snowshoes from Mountain Equipment Co-op (400 King West). 

toronto.ca/parks, parkscanada.gc.ca/rouge, tommythompsonpark.ca

12. Get your cross-country groove on

When it comes to fun on two blades, it’s skating you usually think of – or maybe bombing down one of the city’s three ski hills. But the Big Smoke is blessed with a wealth of parks, ravines and golf courses not used in the winter that are perfect to get your cross-country skiing groove on. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority maintains a number of trails in conservation areas just outside the city. But no need to go there. From Earl Bales Park in the north (Bathurst and Sheppard), to Crothers Woods in the Don Valley (enter off Bayview north of Pottery Road) and High Park in the west end, the options for some mind-clearing sliding and swooshing are closer than you think. 

trca.ca, toronto.ca/parks

13. Take a trek off the beaten path 

Our tree canopy may be stressed from the ravages of climate change, but they don’t call Toronto “a city within a park” for nothing. All around us, accidental paradises abound. The Leslie Street spit wilderness area, carved out of a former dump (at the foot of Leslie, south of Lake Shore), has become one of the best vantage points in North America for bird watching – not to mention taking in the city’s skyline. And there are others in our backyard. There’s the wild weeds of Colonel Sam Smith Park in the western reaches of Etobicoke (3145 Lake Shore West) Glen Stewart ravine’s boardwalk (Glen Manor at Kingston) the rare old-growth of Sherwood Park (190 Sherwood) and picturesque views in Topcliff Park (75 Topcliff) near Jane and Finch to whet your appetite for the wild side.

toronto.ca/parks

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Tanja-Tiziana

Illuminated sculptures light up the Distillery District.

ARTS & CULTURE

14. Shop local at holiday markets

Skip the mall and shop local at holiday markets this season. The Toronto Christmas Market is open in the Distillery District until December 23. Shop outdoors for traditional European Christmas decor, including blown glass and wooden toys in between sips of mulled wine or hot apple cider. 

For a similar experience indoors, hit up the One Of A Kind winter show at the Enercare Centre from November 22 to December 2. Hundreds of vendors selling handmade cards, crafts, clothing and jewellery make OOAK a one-stop shop for everyone on your holiday list. 

A number of smaller holiday craft fairs and markets cater to specific communities. Pink Market, Toronto’s queer craft market, takes over the 519 from December 8 and 9, with everything from pins and patches to vegan leather chokers and harnesses on offer. Meanwhile, the Black Owned Holiday Market at the Enercare Centre on December 8 features gifts and services from Black-owned businesses, with donations benefiting business programs that support Black youth entrepreneurs.

Toronto Christmas Market, now to December 23 at the Distillery Historic District. Free on weekdays, $6 on weekends starting at 5 pm Fridays. torontochristmasmarket.com

One Of A Kind Show, November 22 to December 2 at Enercare Centre (100 Princes’). $7.50-$15. oneofakindshow.com

Pink Market, December 8-9 at the 519 (519 Church). Pwyc ($5 suggested). pinkmarkettoronto.com

Black Owned Holiday Market, December 8 at Enercare Centre (100 Princes’). Free. eventbrite.ca

15. Experience hygge at NORDEN: The Festival Of Cool

If anyone knows how to stay happy in the winter, it’s the Nordic countries. They did invent the concept of hygge, after all – a sort of convivial coziness. This mostly free festival at Harbourfront Centre will deliver it, with music, arts, food and panel discussions – including one from Anthony Rose of Rose and Sons and Claus Meyer, founder of Noma. The coolest part is definitely the free skate night performance by Norwegian electro pop hero Annie on December 1. Other performers include WhoMadeWho and Hildur. 

November 24 to December 2 at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West). Free and ticketed events. harbourfrontcentre.com/norden

16. Get some light therapy at MOCA

As grey, cold days become the norm, treat your Seasonal Affective Disorder at a new Museum of Contemporary Art installation. Designed by Slovenian artist Apolonija Šušteršič, the Light Therapy installation is a room illuminated with warm LED lights that simulate a sunny day. Visitors are encouraged to bask in the room for anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours – or whenever you need a re-charge while exploring the rest of the museum’s five floors. Light Therapy is MOCA’s second Art In Use project, a year-long program that examines the relationship between art and social, political and cultural change. 

November 28 to February 10 at MOCA (158 Sterling). $5-$10. museumofcontemporaryart.ca

17. Dress up for Comicon lite

The city’s comic scene gets in on the shopping spirit with Toronto Fan Days, a one-day event organized by Toronto Comicon. It’s essentially an abbreviated version of the annual March convention, with rising graphic novel/comic writers and artists on hand to meet fans alongside established names from franchises like Star Wars, Batman and X-Men. There’s also a cosplay red carpet, vendors galore and a chance to have your child sit for a photo with everyone’s favourite cosplayer, Santa Claus.

December 8, 11 am to 5 pm, at Metro Toronto Convention Centre – South Building (222 Bremner). $10 at the door. comicontoronto.com

18. Browse Canada’s newest artists

Look at Clara Couzino’s Objectifier L’écriture head on and it appears to be a large sheet of lined paper with black hieroglyphics printed on it. Lean closer and you’ll see a white wall with blue shelves holding painted black objects (like apples, hair clips, salt shakers).

Couzino’s piece is among the 13 prize-winning works on display till December 8 at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto.

The varied pieces, selected by a BMO 1st Art! jury from nationwide post-secondary art school submissions, include installations, digital prints and acrylic paintings. Max Keene’s Pulled Up has a balloon strapped to nails like a torture device. Christopher Dufour’s Commodity Chains squeezes Encyclopedias into a vice. And Greg Morgan’s Legend Of The Qulliq looks exquisite until you get closer. It appears to be an oil lamp mounted on polar bear claws.

To December 8 at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (7 Hart House). Free. 1start.bmo.com

19. Take a class at the new Make Den

If you’re going to spend the winter hunkering down indoors, you may as well learn a new skill while you’re at it. DIY studio The Make Den recently abandoned its too-snug Bloordale digs for a more spacious location on Sterling, where handy fashionistas can learn everything from sewing and leather crafting basics to making leather bags and cloning their fave wardrobe items. (East-enders can head to the Cabbagetown location instead.)

163 Sterling, unit #24, and 410 Dundas East. themakeden.com

20. Get lit at the Toronto Light Festival 

For 45 days this winter, more than a dozen local and international artists transform the Distillery District’s Victorian industrial buildings and cobblestone walkways with colourful light sculptures and interactive installations. Last year’s edition included a glowing pyramid made out of 200,000 gummy bears, a metal fire-breathing dragon by Toronto’s Heavy Meta Collective and massive LED dandelions. The third annual festival promises more psychedelic lights in all shapes and forms. 

January 18 to March 3 at the Distillery District (55 Mill). Free. torontolightfest.com

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Khristel Stecher

Head to the beach for Winter Stations.

21. Hit the beach for Winter Stations 

Bustling with sunbathers in the fleeting summer months, Toronto’s eastern beaches become desolate when the mercury drops. Winter Stations’ goal is to bring life back to the area with a series of temporary public art installations across the shores of Ashbridges Bay, Woodbine Beach and Balmy Beach. Riffing on the theme of political upheaval, last year’s installations included a giant knit pussy hat, a nuclear cooling tower adorned with tiny pinwheels and a sculptural nest made of colourful webbed fabrics. 

February 18 to April 1 from Ashbridges Bay Park (1561 Lake Shore East) east to Balmy Beach. Free. winterstations.com 

22. Start the year with Ai Weiwei

Following big shows by Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono and Banksy, the parade of art stars continues into the New Year with a major exhibit by Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei. Opening at the Gardiner Museum, Unbroken marks the multidisciplinary artist’s first ceramics-focused exhibition and his first show in Toronto since 2013. He often uses ceramics to draw attention to social justice issues, so expect the museum to come up with adjacent programming in tandem with local artists to explore the themes even further.

February 28 to June 2 at the Gardiner Museum (111 Queen’s Park). $9-$15. gardinermuseum.on.ca

23. Get royal at the ROM

Get ready for five centuries worth of glamour at the ROM. A touring exhibition exploring royal arts from the kingdom of Marwar-Jodhpur in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan is arriving from Seattle, giving Torontonians a chance to ogle jewellery, textiles, large-scale paintings, a 17th-century court tent, wedding regalia, luxury vehicles and more. There are upwards of 250 objects in the show – many travelling outside palace walls for the first time on this tour –  primarily from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and the royal family of Jodhpur’s private collections.

March 9 to September 9 at the Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen’s Park). Special exhibit price $TBA. rom.on.ca

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Natalia Manzocco

Café Boulud is one of many restaurants participating in Winterlicious.

FOOD & DRINK

24. Dig in to Rose Beef

Golden Girls fans looking to break bread with new pals and confidantes: get ready. Rose Beef, a Sunday night dining series at Glad Day, has made its return after a long absence. From 8 to 11 pm, take in a selection of six episodes featuring the ol’ gals’ hijinks, plus entertainment by “slop queen” Mikiki and a menu of comfort food dishes.

December 2, 23, 30 and January 6 at Glad Day Bookshop (499 Church). facebook.com/RoseBeefTO

25. Ditch those New Year’s resolutions for Winterlicious

Folks either love Winterlicious or love to hate on the two-week dining festival. At the end of the day, foodies get a good deal on prix fixe lunch and dinner menus at more than 200 restaurants. From January 25 to February 7, enjoy three-course meals from $28-$53 at places likes Café Boulud, Momofuku and the Drake Hotel. Reservations fill up, so be sure to watch for booking announcements in the new year. 

January 25 to February 7 at various locations. $28-$53. toronto.ca/winterlicious

26. Raise a glass at the Toronto Tea Festival

Coffee tends to hog the spotlight in this town – but not at this three-day fest in February, which packs an unbe-leaf-able array of hundreds of exhibitors and experts under one roof. Visitors can sample their way through the show with the provided tasting cup, snag deals on tea and tea ware, and hopefully go home with a bag of their new favourite blend.

February 1 to 3 at Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge). teafestivaltoronto.com

27. Get interactive with U-Feast

Homegrown food-events outfit U-Feast has been hosting pop-up dinners around Toronto for a couple of years, but its new “interactive” events series gives diners the opportunity to pick up some new skills in addition to a decent meal. Among the recurring events: pasta-making classes at Amano, samplings and tours at Cheese Boutique, and salumi-making school at Speducci Mercatto.

Various locations. $40 and up. u-feast.com

28. Take a dip in some hot pot

Get up close and personal with a simmering cauldron of broth for two hours. Toronto has no shortage of great hot pot destinations, but if you’re in the mood for something new, Coconut Seasons Hot Pot (203-668 Silver Star in Scarborough) does it Hainanese-style by pouring coconut water directly into the broth. Downtown, there’s the new Chinatown outpost of Liuyishou Hotpot (254 Spadina), where you can grab a three-broth combo for maximum dipping options.

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Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo comes to town.

STAGE

29. There’s no place like home… and a Ross Petty panto 

It wouldn’t be winter without the annual Ross Petty panto. Even though the producer/actor retired from playing his show’s campy villains, his pantos are still going strong, and feature triple-threat talents and bright up-and-comers. This year’s show, The Wizard Of Oz: A Toto-ly Twistered Family Musical, features Camille Eanga Selenge as Dorothy, Sara Jeanne Hosie as the Wicked Witch of the West and, stepping into the drag shoes, Michael DeRose as Sugarbum.

November 30 to January 5 at the Elgin (189 Yonge). rosspetty.com

30. Take your pick from many Christmas Carols

Perhaps the presence of so many real-life Scrooges these days has increased our appetite for Dickens’s beloved tale of redemption. Among the choices this year is Soulpepper’s acclaimed production written by Michael Shamata and starring Joseph Ziegler as the miserable miser (December 7 to 24) if you want to believe you’re in Victorian England, head over to the Campbell House Museum for Three Ships Collective’s immersive version of the story featuring Thomas Gough (December 12 to 22) and for a comic twist on the tale, No Porpoise Productions is mounting a two-person version called A Christmas Carol Comedy featuring M. John Kennedy as Scrooge and Sean Sullivan playing every other character (November 30 to December 23). If you’re in the mood for some wine tastings along with your Dickens, head to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the second year of the Shaw Festival’s magical production starring Michael Therriault as Ebenezer (on through December 23).

soulpepper.ca ChristmasCarolTO.com noporpoiseproductions.com shawfest.com 

31. Get cracking on The Nutcracker 

Forget about the tepid film adaptation that just came out and go see the real thing. James Kudelka’s re-imagined version, featuring stunning sets by Santo Loquasto and more gender-balanced casting, is still a fine way to introduce young audiences from all backgrounds to classical dance. 

December 8 to 30 at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). national.ballet.ca

32. See hot people doing cool things at a Cirque du Soleil show 

What better way to heat up during the chilly season than to watch world-class acrobats at Cirque du Soleil do eye-popping things? Corteo, one of the most imaginative and gorgeously designed shows in the company’s repertoire, comes to town for a week. 

December 12 to 16 at Scotiabank Theatre (40 Bay). cirquedusoleil.com/corteo

33. Start the year with Next Stage Festival 

From a dance show that wowed the Fringe Festival earlier this year, to a new play by Dora Award-winning playwright Nick Green, to a drama directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, who helmed The Wolves earlier this year, there’s tons to see at the boutique stage festival. One of the big draws of this year’s fest, which begins a week later than usual, is its first site-specific show. David S. Craig and Richard Greenblatt’s Athabasca, about a showdown between a journalist and an oil executive in Fort McMurray, will take place in a venue yet to be announced.

January 9 to 20 at various venues. fringetoronto.com/festivals/next-stage

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Reyez at a corner she used to busk at in Kensington Market. “I used to play in front of a fruit stand. At night they’d put all the [produce] away and it would just be me sitting on the crates.”

MUSIC 

34. Sing along at Jessie Reyez’s hometown show 

It’s been a big year for Jessie Reyez. Our former cover star released her explosive sophomore EP, Being Human In Public, collaborated with Calvin Harris and Sam Smith and picked up the 2018 Juno Award for breakthrough artist of the year. To cap off her biggest North American solo tour yet, she’s playing two hometown shows on the Danforth. For those lucky enough to snatch tickets early (both shows are now sold-out), expect a set as eclectic as her music: soulful R&B, slick pop and fiery acoustic singalongs. Also, warning to those in the front rows: Reyez loves stage diving and crowd surfing. 

December 3 and 4 at Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth). 7 pm. $25-$35. ticketmaster.ca

35. Surprise yourself at Jason Collett’s Basement Revue

For 12 years, Jason Collett and Damian Rogers have been throwing CanLit/CanRock variety shows in the basement of venues (first the Dakota Tavern and now Longboat Hall, which is below the Great Hall). Last year, they teamed up with RPM and went out on the nation(s)wide New Constellations tour, which brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists and felt like a re-energization of the concept. This year they’re back in the basement for one four cozy weeknight winter revues with surprise performances and collaborations from writers, musicians and speakers, never revealed beforehand. 

December 4, 13, 20 and 27 at Longboat Hall (1087 Queen West), doors 8:30 pm. $25. basementrevue.com

36. Settle in for a Long Winter

It’s hard to believe this music series is now seven years old. At the same time it feels like it’s been warming the city forever. Since moving beyond its origins as a monthly outgrowth of the band Fucked Up at the Great Hall and being taken over by a community of scenesters, the DIY, all-ages music and arts fest has established its vibe: genre-bending and welcoming, roving from room to room, no matter the venue. Year seven kicked off last week at Tranzac. The lineup has yet to be announced for next month, but we know it will be December 8 at the Polish Combatants Hall. Fingers crossed for pierogi.

December 8 at Polish Combatants Hall (206 Beverley). $10 at ticketscene.ca or PWYC at the door. January, February and March dates TBA. torontolongwinter.com 

37. Relive Home Alone in concert

It’s hard to believe that Home Alone came out 28 years ago, but the Christmas classic about a kid who accidentally gets left at home over the holidays and must ultimately defend his family’s house from a couple of bonehead burglars is enjoyable with every viewing. Part of that is thanks to John Williams’s delightfully memorable score. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, joined by Resonance Youth Choir, performs the songs live – along with a screening of the 103-minute film – December 6 to 8 at Roy Thomson Hall. It’ll put you in a holiday mood and leave you humming the tunes long after the season ends.

December 6-8 at Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe). $26-142. tso.ca

38. Celebrate 71 years of the Horseshoe with 54-40

The mainstay Queen West venue went all out for its 70th birthday last year, with a handful of legends playing multiple nights. This year is considerably scaled down, with three nights by one band: alt-rock CanCon heroes 54-40, who’ve graced those checkerboard floors many, many times. But so have we, and there are fewer places we’d rather while away the winter months. 

December 6-8 at Horseshoe (370 Queen West), doors 9 pm. $39.50-$49.50. ticketfly.com, rotate.com, soundscapesmusic.com

39. Sigh along with Toronto’s winter house band, Alvvays

I’ve always thought of Alvvays as more of a summer band, perfect for dusky end-of-season beach contemplations. But apparently they work just as well in the colder months. Last December the Toronto indie pop band played five sold-out shows at Mod Club, and they’re repeating the multi-night stand this year with five at Danforth Music Hall with sonic soulmate Snail Mail. Let them transport you to a warmer clime.

December 6-10 at Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth), doors 7 pm. $25-$30. ticketmaster.ca

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Matt Williams

Jennifer Castle

40. Get hushed for Jennifer Castle and Jeremy Dutcher

Jennifer Castle and Jeremy Dutcher are two of the city’s best bets to make an entire crowd of people hush in pin-drop-quiet awe. Dutcher did it at last year’s New Constellations tour around this same time, but now with the added cachet of a Polaris Prize victory for this year’s Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, people will come specifically for his breathtaking operatic vocals and sweeping arrangements of traditional Wolostoq songs. Or for Castle’s sparse and gorgeous reverb-ridden mortality meditations. 

December 15 at Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth), doors 7 pm. $20. ticketmaster.ca

41. Get nostalgic at Blow Up’s Christmas Ball

Davy Love’s Blow Up party was nostalgic to begin with – the locally famous event is a tribute to mop-headed mod, Britpop and anglocentric indie rock of years gone by. But now it’s been refashioned as a reunion – now its 24th year. Not a landmark because of the number, but with the El Mocambo finally inching back to life – and unlikely to restore Blow Up to its most famous home (among many others) – it feels like a good time to celebrate one of Toronto’s classic late-90s/early-00s parties. 

December 15 at Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton), doors 8:30 pm. $17.50. ticketfly.com

42. Have a merry Chrismukkah

If you had the pleasure of growing up with both Christian and Jewish parents, you probably celebrated Chrismukkah – or something like it. The bi-religious holiday combining the words “Christmas” and “Hanukkah” was popularized thanks to the early-aught TV drama The O.C. On December 20, feel nostalgic for Seth, Marissa, Ryan and Summer when the Baitshop Backing Band plays songs from the show at the Horseshoe. All proceeds benefit SKETCH Working Arts and the Children’s Book Bank.

December 20 at Horseshoe (370 Queen West). $20-$25. ticketfly.com

43. Mosh for a good cause with Metz and Fucked Up

Holiday season brings some great benefit concerts, but this one from Toronto noise-and-punk boundary-breakers Fucked Up and Metz might be the mother of them all. Opening the show will be Witch Prophet, plus a DJ set from U.S. Girls’ Meg Remy. Put on by Not Dead Yet, the all-ages show is in support of the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, whose precarious safe-injection sites have recently been made official by the Ontario government – but the red-tape-filled solution, capped at 21 “consumption and treatment centres,” remains a half measure during the current opioid crisis. TOPS could use the support.

December 22 at Opera House (735 Queen East), doors 8 pm, all ages. $19.50. ticketfly.com, rotate.com, soundscapesmusic.com

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Courtesy of Rec Room

Experience Star Wars in VR at the Rec Room.

MOVIES

44. Go big or go home at the Cinesphere

Toronto moviegoers of a certain age remember trudging down to Ontario Place between Christmas and New Year’s Day to catch 70mm prints of Amadeus, Aliens, Apocalypse Now, Back To The Future, Lawrence Of Arabia, Spartacus and dozens more on the Cinesphere’s massive IMAX screen. The venue drifted away from the practice in the 90s, but now that the Cinesphere is up and running again, its programmers have lined up all sorts of retro entertainment for the winter. December’s offerings include Blade Runner 2049, The Fifth Element and the Christmas classics Die Hard and The Polar Express, all in a nice big room that makes you remember what moviegoing is all about: sitting down, shutting up and being overwhelmed. 

Blade Runner 2049, November 30–December 2, 7:30 pm Die Hard December 7-9 and 21-23, 7:30 pm The Polar Express, December 8-9 and 15-16, 3:30 pm The Fifth Element, December 14-16, 7:30 pm at Ontario Place Cinesphere (955 Lake Shore West). ontarioplace.com

45. Catch a holiday movie at a fraction of the price

If you’re looking to take the kids out to a holiday movie but hoping to avoid the hefty ticket prices that come with seeing The Grinch, Cineplex Family Favourites offer a viable alternative, for the price of a 3D upsell. The year-round Saturday-morning programming has scheduled Elf and Polar Express 3D for December 1 and 8, respectively. The former stars Will Ferrell as a human raised to be one of Santa’s elves and the latter stars an animated Tom Hanks as a magical conductor taking kids to visit Santa at the North Pole.

December 1 and 8, various Cineplex locations. $2.99. cineplex.com

46. Spend a couple hours in the dark with an American master

Few filmmakers blur the line between art and entertainment as consistently as Steven Spielberg, who regularly applies his formidable technical skill to exhilarating blockbusters like Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Raiders Of The Lost Ark (and two-thirds of its sequels), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report and War Of The Worlds… and to more sombre affairs like Empire Of The Sun, Schindler’s List and Munich. Close Encounters: The Cinema Of Steven Spielberg will screen as many of Spielberg’s films as TIFF’s programmers can get their hands on, along with the films he oversaw as a producer at Amblin Entertainment. There’s even a Boxing Day marathon of all four Indiana Jones movies… but if you buy the pass you only have to pay for three. 

December 21–January 10, 2019 at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West). tiff.net

47. See how Canada’s Top Ten is transformed

Earlier this month, TIFF announced it was abandoning its Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival – which had been held in the middle of January – and reconfiguring its programming strategy to give the honoured features and documentaries week-long engagements throughout the year in the Canada’s Top Ten Theatrical Series. But the Top Ten short films will still get their own winter showcase, and the Top Ten student shorts will be presented as part of the TIFF Next Wave festival in February. So that’s something to look forward to catching on a chilly winter’s day. 

At TIFF Bell Lightbox (50 King West). tiff.net

48. Here’s some money, go see a Star War

Is it a VR arcade, an immersive environmental adventure experience or just glorified laser tag? The best thing about The Rec Room’s new “hyper-reality” space, The VOID, is that it’s all of that at once, throwing patrons into curated and branded adventures. Star Wars: Secrets Of The Empire lets you sneak into an Imperial base on Mustafar – you know, the planet where Anakin Skywalker got delimbed at the end of Episode III – while Ralph Breaks VR takes the Wreck-It Ralph sequel a step further, and hopefully finally lets Sarah Silverman swear in character as Vanellope von Schweetz. (You know she wants to.) And if we’re lucky, maybe they’ll bring back the Ghostbusters game they were offering at launch. We, um, kept meaning to play that.

At The Roundhouse (255 Bremner). therecroom.com

49. Jump back a couple of decades at the Lightbox

David Fincher’s Fight Club and Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich. Claire Denis’s Beau Travail and Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother. Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. The last year of the 20th century saw a remarkable wave of cinema – which you’d know if you listened to Podcast Like It’s 1999 – and TIFF will be honouring this creative wave with Movies At The Millennium, a retrospective of auteur classics from around the world. We just hope they find room for Galaxy Quest in there somewhere. Seriously, that movie holds up.

January and February 2019 at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West). tiff.net 

50. Catch up on all that Oscar bait

The vagaries of international releasing means a steady trickle of Academy Award nominees from November to February, as some distributors hold a movie until the last possible moment to capitalize on Oscar buzz: for example, Mongrel Media is releasing Pawel Pawlikowski’s foreign-language contender Cold War on January 25, 2019, the Friday after the nominations are announced. This is actually a good thing, since it spaces out the Oscar bait and lets us catch up to everything at our own pace, rather than rush to see all five best director nominees in a single weekend. (But go see Cold War as soon as you can, it’s great.)

Various locations including Cineplex Varsity Cinemas (55 Bloor West) and TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West).

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