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Christmas/Holiday: Let there be light--Christmas Lights Across Canada

This year, the annual holiday arrived at our house with a crisis. You might call it a “mini-crisis,” because it had to do with mini-lights, those twinkling strips of light that seem to adorn every tree. Should we try festooning our own fresh evergreen with these tiny brights or should we stick with our tried-and-true (though rather retro) large bulbs in bright colours? I headed to the local store for some new bulbs. “You’re still using those old things?” a store clerk asked, aghast that we were not keeping up with what was happening. Their displays dazzled with fibre-optic lights that changed colours, mini-light chasers that moved around the tree, even lights that played music. But no old-fashioned bulbs. “I’d check at an older hardware store,” the clerk advised as if we needed to speak to someone that was more in tune with the 1940’s than the new Millennium.

Since the last century’s early days, when people held festivals of fire when the sun was at its weakest (perhaps they hoped to strengthen it), light has brought relief to the darkest days of winter. In addition to staging your own light displays during Christmas and Chanukah, you may want to check out one of the light extravaganzas happening across the country. The kids may jump up and down, but more likely, they’ll become quiet and still, in awe at the scene of “All is calm” or “All is bright.”

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS ACROSS CANADA, Ottawa: Since 1985, when Parliament Hill was flooded with light, the National Capital Region has been stringing up lights around town. These days, it takes two months to install 250,000 lights that illuminate 60 downtown sites including museums, monuments, embassies, and churches (there are 18,000 lights on Parliament Hill alone). Travel to the top of the Westin Hotel Ottawa for a great view or walk Confederation Boulevard to see the topiary sculptures up close. Your kids will enjoy the evergreen deer or wolves covered in lights.

Because of the cold December weather, the Rideau Canal Skateway is ready early this year so don’t forget the skates. And be sure to stop for hot chocolate or a famous BeaverTail pastry along the way. Ottawa’s lights are turned on between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m. until January 14, 2001. Call 1-800-465-1867 or visit www.capcan.ca.

Canada’s Capital Region is not the only capital to light up for the holidays. As the festival name implies, other cities simultaneously light up to celebrate the beginning of winter. You’ll see displays in Iquluit, Whitehorse, and Yellowknife, as well as all of the other provincial capitals. In Victoria, don’t miss the thousands of lights at the Butchart Gardens. In Halifax, sailors at the Canadian Forces Base and Coast Guard decorate their ships and subs with strings of light. And in Winnipeg, a highlight for the kids is the Nights of the Wild at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, where lit-up owls hang in the trees and zoo critters dazzle against the snow.

WINTER FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS, Niagara Falls: This border town isn’t just a honeymoon destination. In fact, with recent monies invested for more parkland, and new family attractions such as the Iwerks moving theatre with 4D special effects seats, this is a fun place for kids. We arrived one year on New Year’s Eve just after an ice storm and the place sparkled against every icy tree branch with motion light scenes from Disney, bulbs strung up along the streets, and lights reflecting off the cascading waters of the Falls. The kids thought it must be a fairyland. This 18th season features the Enchantment of Disney at the base of Murray Hill in Queen Victoria Park and a special New Year’s Eve family celebration starting at 7:30 p.m. with Smudge Fundaes, fiddling superstar Natalie McMaster, and singer Jann Arden. A bonus is that there are two fireworks displays—one at 9:15 p.m. and one at midnight so that your kids don’t have to stay awake until the wee hours. The lights stay on until January 16, 2001. Call 1-800-563-2557 or visit www.NiagaraFallsTourism.com.

WILDLIGHTS! AT THE CALGARY ZOO, Calgary: If you’ve got a skiing holiday planned in Banff or Lake Louise, stop in at one of the country’s best zoos where the Transalta’s Wildlights! runs through the holidays. Stroll along the snowy pathways with hot chocolate while the kids delight in the one million twinkling lights or have fun in the interactive Snow Zone. The lights glow from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each night and run until Dec. 30 ($5 for adults, $3 for kids). Visit www.calgaryzoo.ab.ca. And by the way, the kids voted to keep our frosty old bulbs despite the gaps along the light strings.





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