A Catholic mommy blogger I follow on Twitter recently shared this rhyme: “Row row rosary / Every single day / Hail Mary, full of grace / That’s the way to pray.”
Here is my response: “Have have have you heard / Of Vatican II? / All world faiths are paths to God / Love from an atheist Jew.”*
I didn’t tweet that back at her because a) I’m not 100% clear on what was determined at the Second Vatican Council; b) I’m probably more agnostic, but that didn’t fit the meter so well; and c) we’re coming up on Christmas, which I absolutely adore despite the aforementioned Jewishness, and an Internet war doesn’t exactly scream festivity.
Instead, I’m planning to partake in as many holiday activities as I can fit in between writing papers, studying for exams, fretting over what to give everyone and attending five (!) different parties in a two-week span.
Ice, ice, baby
Despite the unseasonably warm weather, a good number of Toronto’s (free!) rinks have opened, and I am beyond excited to glide across as many as possible. This, of course, will extend beyond the holidaze and throughout the bleak mid-winter, but skating is such a lovely way to enjoy the outdoors under twinkly lights, and remind yourself that winter isn’t all that bad.
My favourite rinks in Toronto are Colonel Sam Smith Park and Greenwood Park, but Nathan Phillips Square is a classic, and I hope to voyage out of the city for some trail skating at some point this season.
Gimme that old time tradition
Corsets and cholera aside, there’s something magical about Christmases of yesteryear, and visiting local museums offers a taste of it with candlelight carolling, traditional baking and costumed docents. So this year, my friend Katy and I are making wreaths at Colborne Lodge, the home of John and Jemima Howard, who once owned the land that is now High Park.
Other good options of voyaging into Christmas Past include:
- Black Creek Pioneer Village’s Christmas By Lamplight
- Tea time at Montgomery’s Inn
- English country dancing events as part of a Jane Austen Christmas (tickets for the Twelfth Night Ball start at $55, which is sadly beyond my law student budget, but perhaps in three years, when I’m gainfully employed once again)
When you’ve had your fill of Yuletide past, turn your eye to contemporary art at the Gardiner Museum. Every year, they have 12 artists each design a Christmas tree according to a particular theme which, this year, is “Let there be light.” The exhibit runs until January 7, and tickets are free for those under 18, $9 for students, $11 for seniors and $15 for adults. Half-price admission is available on Friday evenings, and students get in for free on Tuesdays.
The museum is a two-minute walk from the law school, so two of my new law friends and I plan on checking it out next week.
Eschew the malls
I enjoy the free Wifi and ample parking at Sherway Gardens as much as anyone, but sometimes your Secret Santa doesn’t need another sweater from the Gap or iTunes gift card. Luckily, Toronto is home to many holiday markets where you can find whimsical tchotchkes. The Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District is classic, complete with cobblestones, a twinkly light tunnel, carollers and endless booths of winter crafts. I’ve been twice and haven’t particularly enjoyed it either time, but I’ll probably still return this year. (The light tunnel is new and very Instagrammable.)
The market is free during the weekdays and $6 on weekends, though if you’re planning to see a play at Soulpepper Theatre, you can get in for free.
Speaking of which, I’m looking forward to going to A Christmas Carol at Soulpepper, which, embarrassingly, I’ve neither seen nor read. My parents, not being even vaguely Christian, never make a point of taking me to traditional Christmas performances, though we did have a have a tree topped with a Star of David and decorated with dreidels. As a result, I’m not at all familiar with Messiah or The Nutcracker or dear old Scrooge. While my exam schedule likely won’t permit me to see all three Christmas classics this year, Toronto has many good options for holiday shows I’m looking forward to taking in another year:
- Messiah at the TSO
- Messiah at Tafelmusik (they have a sing-along concert!)
- The Nutcracker at the National Ballet
- The Nutcracker performed by ballet students (affordable!)
- A dramatic reading of A Christmas Carol at a downtown Anglican church
And now that you’re absolutely broke, it’s time to fill up a thermos with hot tea or cocoa (or, if you’re still feeling flush, treat yourself to a Starbucks holiday latte) and wander through the city, taking in department stores’ the over-the-top window displays as well as your neighbours’ holiday decorations.
Afterwards, light your favourite candles, cue up a Christmas playlist on Spotify, sing along as you decorate the tree and wrap presents, and end the evening with the cheesiest holiday movies on Netflix over mulled wine.
What is any holiday without food? Whether you get creative in the kitchen, always follow a family recipe, or simply order your favourites from Uber Eats, it’s essential to nosh well. My roommate, for example, started his Christmas cake prep back in November, and my mum and I have a latke-making date every Chanukah. Unfortunately, my great-grandma Lillian’s recipe has been lost to time (though I still have my great-aunt’s famous cheesecake recipe!), but my mum and I enjoy trying new permutations. This year, we will attempt apple-sweet potato latkes.
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Growing up, I’d often complain about not receiving any mail, and my dad would always ask when I last sent a letter to anyone. Fair enough — as you sow, you shall reap, and all that. So, because I would like a mantlepiece positively bursting with festive cards (and also because it’s important to keep in touch etc. etc.), I’m committing to sending them to friends and family from Vancouver to Boston.
*To be clear, my issue is with the last line of the rhyme. I think “the way to pray” suggests Catholicism is the only legitimate faith tradition, though I recognize that “a way to pray” seems milquetoast and “a good way to pray” is too long.