Santa and sleigh rides: What to do in Edmonton this holiday season

“Winter events like Downtown Winterval support Edmonton’s Winter City Strategy and encourage Edmontonians to get outside during the winter, have fun, connect with one another, and support small and local businesses with their holiday spending”

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Edmonton is fixing to light up for the holidays with sales, sleigh rides, visits from Santa and at least one brand new festival.

Experiencing it all might be impossible, but with this guide to help you, it may only be improbable.

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The Edmonton Downtown Business Association is pretty elfing excited about its new event, the inaugural Downtown Winterval, to be held on 104 Street Dec. 1 and 2. It’s a shift for the festivities held along Rice Howard Way last year.

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A news release promises “free outdoor concerts, festive and cultural activities, free horse-drawn sleigh rides, an indoor Christmas market, an outdoor beer garden and more.”

As Puneeta McBryan, CEO of the EDBA puts it, December represents “one of the most critical times of the year for our small businesses. Winter events like Downtown Winterval support Edmonton’s Winter City Strategy and encourage Edmontonians to get outside during the winter, have fun, connect with one another, and support small and local businesses with their holiday spending.”

The party starts Dec. 1 with free performances by Juno Award-nominated artists Jamie Fine and Rich Aucoin on the Winterval main stage. Vancouver alt-rock band Rare Americans will headline Dec. 2, buttressed by performances by local musicians and cultural arts organizations.

Downtown Holiday Light Up
A worker hangs decorations during the Downtown Holiday Light Up in Edmonton, Alberta on December 3, 2022. Photo by File Photo /Postmedia

But don’t just stick to the stage, wander down 104 Avenue to find other highlights, such as:

  • A kid-focused Christmas party at Rocky Mountain Icehouse featuring Santa Claus
  • Free arcade games and food specials at Home & Away
  • A dog-friendly “Pawliday Party” at Fawkes Coffee Shop
  • Caribbean Christmas celebrations at the Jamaican Association of Northern Alberta
  • A free crafting workshop with Alberta Craft Council
  • A pop-up indoor Christmas market featuring downtown businesses and locally made gifts and treats, operated by the Edmonton Downtown Farmers Market

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Also, Michael Phair Park will come alive with family-friendly programming, including ice-carving stations, campfire baked apples, maple taffy and a second light-art installation.

Celebrate all month

Visit for full Downtown Winterval details and a list of downtown events happening throughout December. According to the EDBA, some of the can’t miss action includes:

  • Daily throughout December – The Ice District Plaza and City Hall Plaza skating rinks will be open daily for free public skating under a canopy of festive lights and larger-than-life holiday décor.
  • Dec. 1 – The Oil Kings present their 16th annual Teddy Bear Toss in support of 630 CHED Santas Anonymous. This season, it is expected that the Oil Kings and their fans will collect a record 150,000 bears, eclipsing the current total of 146,930.
  • Dec. 16 – The City of Edmonton hosts Bright Lights Skate Night at City Hall Plaza ice skating rink. During the event, visitors can see the holiday tree and moonGARDEN, an award-winning interactive art installation never before seen in Edmonton. Free skate rentals will be available.
  • Dec. 8-23 –Stroll the Alberta Legislature grounds and enjoy the lights and sounds of Christmas. Scheduled performances will be held Fridays at noon and Saturday evenings in the Legislature Building Rotunda.
  • Dec. 27-Dec. 31 – Corteo, Cirque du Soleil’s enchanting arena production charms Edmonton audiences for the very first time at Rogers Place. This one-of-a-kind production, directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, was performed for the first time in Montreal in April 2005. Since its creation, the show has dazzled more than 10 million people, in 20 countries on four continents.

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Alberta Legislature
The dome of the Alberta Legislature is visible in the background as crews construct a Christmas tree decoration in Violet King Henry Plaza, in Edmonton Wednesday Nov. 8, 2023. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

City Hall set to sparkle

The City of Edmonton has released its own cocoa-powered, all nice and no naughty list of end-of-year celebrations taking place in December.

The “Holiday Magic” will return to City Hall in the form of elementary and junior high school students performing holiday hits over lunch, between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Dec. 4 to 8. Quite festively, admission is free.

Other events planned, weather permitting of course, include but are not limited to:

Big Air is back: Commonwealth Stadium will play host to the FIS Snowboard Big Air World Cup Dec. 8 and 9, featuring some of the top athletes from around the globe (Santa is disqualified due to a high risk of performance-enhancing substances, to wit: milk and cookies, and “RR’s green onion cakes”). The event, which qualifies as the first stop on the Canada Snowboard 2023-24 Shred the North Series, also promises a celebration of snowboard culture, including action sports demos, music, art, vendors and food.

Commonwealth Stadium
Final preparations were underway at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Canada, on Thursday, December 8, 2022, for the Style Experience FIS Snowboard Big Air World Cup event to be held on Saturday, December 10, 2022. Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

ICE District, babies: The popular plaza and fan park will host a series of seasonal events, including free public skating from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, an outdoor Opera Dec. 13, an Oilers Watch Party and a New Year’s Eve concert Dec. 31. Bring your tuque and your skates to the ICE District Plaza skating rink and enjoy free public skating from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

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End it on this: A whole lot of fun in a few words: New Year’s Eve. Festival. Fireworks. Downtown. Free, family-friendly programming is planned at Winston Churchill Square Dec. 31 between 6:30 p.m. and 12:15 p.m. including roaming performers, holiday activities and free skate rentals, not to mention two  fireworks shows: the usual blast at midnight, and an early-bird show at 9 p.m.

Muttart Conservatory
New lights were turned on for the holidays at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton, Alta., on Friday, December 21, 2012. An array of 156 colour-changing light emitting diodes have been installed in the conservatory’s pyramids to be used year round. Photo by File photo /Postmedia

Pointsettia potpourri

Nov. 25-Jan. 7: Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree in the Feature Pyramid at Muttart Conservatory, also, Candlelight Christmas Celtic concert series, Dec. 8-12, Countdown to 2024, Dec. 31

Dec. 1-31: Hibernacular will feature spectacular nature activities and feature focus at John Janzen Nature Centre

Dec. 13-17 and 19-23: Experience the Candlelight Christmas Celtic concert series at John Walter Museum

Dec. 1-Jan. 3: Edmonton Valley Zoo: Zoominescence Festival of Light, with artistic light installations and animal talks

Nov. 25: Winter Whyte Light Up at Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park and Strathcona Backstreet Plaza promises a free family-friendly event with hot chocolate, carolers and winter giveaways between 4 and 7 p.m.

Dec. 8 to Jan. 1: Candy Cane Lane: The Edmonton holiday tradition continues from dusk to 11 p.m. Bring a non-perishable donation for the Edmonton Food Bank.

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