Christmas shopping, European style

I always thought the Toronto Eaton Centre, with its sparkling Swarovski Crystal Christmas Tree, was the most festive part of the city at this time of year. But this year, the Distillery District takes the cake with a Christmas market that seems to encompass every element of the holiday season.

The charming market is modeled after similar ones that take place in Europe each year. And while Toronto’s version may not be quite as impressive as its European counterparts, it does a pretty great job of recreating the concept.

Vendors set up in wooden huts at the market sell things like Christmas ornaments, toys, hand-woven toques and scarves, candles, soaps, and plenty of sweets. Food vendors sell a range of European delicacies, like Slovenian sausages, apple strudel and German cakes, as well as such holiday treats as roasted chestnuts and gingerbread cookies.

There are plenty of drinks to go around, too. Bars and beer gardens set up in the market offer hot apple cider, spiked eggnog, specialty coffees and a variety of beer and mulled wine, and campfires to huddle around while you enjoy your drink.

For anyone with a soft spot for Christmas festivities, I definitely recommend checking out the Christmas Market. It runs until Sunday.

Tips for market-goers:

Take transit. There’s limited parking around the Distillery District, with many lots in the area recently having turned into new condominium construction sites. If possible, take the bus the streetcar, or the market shuttle bus that departs from Union Station every half hour, to avoid having to cruise around full lots waiting for others to leave. (Plus, this way, you can have all the spiked eggnog you want without having to worry about driving!)

Bundle up. On a cold day, the surrounding historic buildings do little to shield the district’s cobblestone walkways from the harsh winds. I recommend bringing a touque, a scarf, and warm mittens.

Bring a non-perishable food item for the Daily Bread Food Bank. Ideally, make it something nutritious. The most needed items include baby formula, beans and lentils, canned fruits and vegetables, canned fish and meat, cans of soup or hearty stew, dried pasta and tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, rice and canned or powdered milk.

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