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Christmas Around the World

Posted 01/Dec/2006 11:20:00 by Sheryl

The first time, we found it by accident. Torontonians, like most urban people, I suspect, don't actually spend a lot of time at their local city hall. It's a place you go for specific things such as licenses, or perhaps to pay your property tax bill, but the residents of the city just don't hang out there.

We popped in because we knew there was a bank machine in the main rotunda, and we were low on cash. Who knew that there would be a whole multicultural festival going on inside?

Not many people, apparently, as the Community Folk Art Council of Toronto's annual Christmas Around the World event is attended primarily by the friends and family of the groups participating. It's just one of the many, many cultural events that take place at city hall or the adjacent Nathan Phillips Square that doesn't get a lot of media coverage.

Which is too bad, because it's a fantastic two-day event showcasing the traditional Christmas festivities of over 15 different countries. The Community Folk Art Council has been doing this event for 42 years, and also does an Easter event that is very similar showcasing traditional activities and foods.

Each country has a display that includes a decorated Christmas tree, a table full of traditional holiday foods, and a number of volunteers on hand to explain how that culture celebrates Christmas. The displays include a number of items for sale, particularly crafts and food items, and in recent years, we've taken to showing up with empty containers so we can easily transport stuff home. In our house, we actually refer to the event as "Cookies Around the World" due to the huge variety of sweets available.

Besides the displays, participating cultural groups take part in the entertainment. A main stage features traditional dances and performances, and watching the gorgeous costumes and swirling skirts while snacking on some spanakopita or Chilean Alfajores (a sandwiched cookie full of dulce du leche) is a great way to spend an afternoon.

This year the event runs for two days only, from December 2nd to 3rd, from noon to 5pm, although the Christmas trees will remain on display in the main rotunda until the new year. Participating countries and groups include: Slovak Republick, Hungary, Serbia, Madeira, Poland, Pioneer Canada, Russia, Philipines, Mexico, Ukraine, Macedonia, Chile, Scotland, Switzerland, Portugal and Colombia. Christmas Around the World is free to attend, and the food and crafts available are all very reasonably priced.

If you find yourself near Toronto City Hall this weekend, don't assume that the only activity is at the skating rink out front. There's a whole world of holiday festivities inside that reflect the true multicultural character of the city.

Photo credit: Community Folk Art Council

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