Sometimes it takes hopes, dreams and really good art to convince people to deliberately wander around outside during the cold holiday season.
When Matthew Rosenblatt, Toronto Christmas Market Creator and Executive Director and his partners bought the Distillery District a decade ago, they had plans to make the area a year-round tourist attraction, not just during the summer months. It had to be something that would convince Torontonians to make the trip and hang around outside. They hit on the idea of having an annual Christmas market.
The problem was, how do you describe the idea of a Christmas market? It’s a long-standing tradition in countries such as Germany, Switzerland or Belgium or as seen in movies. Rosenblatt had to rely on drawings, according to Emily Zajac, director, marketing and festival relations.
“We had to do a lot of education in the first year because people didn’t understand what a Christmas market was,” she says. This was hard to do without a tangible example. The first market ran for 10 days and an estimated 100,000 people attended. “We introduced outdoor wooden vendor cabins, Glühwein (mulled wine), and many more traditions that helped us stay true to the original European markets.”
“The history of the European markets and the reason they still exist there is to have people in cities and towns across Europe come together to celebrate the holiday season with their community, their family and their friends. That’s exactly what we wanted to do here,” Rosenblatt has told Toronto Storeys.
The idea was to take the sentiments and spirit of the traditional European Christmas Market and use them to transform The Distillery into a holiday destination where people could connect with friends and family.
Once visitors understood the idea of a Christmas market, you couldn’t keep them away. It also challenged the team to exceed expectations year after year. “Each year we look to add even more magic and romance to the experience,” says Zajac.
That means adding new vendors who may be recommended by visitors and creating backdrops that make for the perfect Instagram photo. (Remember the pink Christmas tree forest at the entrance last year?) She explains that the team considers all feedback from visitors.
“The Market is constantly evolving based on feedback from visitors and our partners. We expand on elements that are popular, and enhance experiences where there is room for growth.”
Still, favourites remain, including the European culinary highlight of the market – Das Kartoffelhaus: German potato pancakes served with apple sauce and sour cream.
The market is now part of the experience of Christmas in Toronto. In fact, it has influenced other outdoor markets which are also fun but don’t capture the romantic, historic vibes of the Distillery District. Zajac says these days they have to focus on managing the crowds.
The market is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year and expects to see 650,000 people visit over the month. Seeing something move from artistic renderings to a place people actively visit has been deeply satisfying for the team.
Admission is free from Tuesdays to Fridays and costs $8 for advanced purchase and $12 day of purchase on weekends and Fridays starting at 6pm. The Market is closed on Mondays.
Our recommendation is to make sure to have a few hours to visit. The Toronto Christmas Market isn’t a place to be rushed.