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Royaume du père Noël - Complexe Desjardins
Photograph: Complexe Desjardins

Things to do on Christmas in Montreal

It may look like the city’s taking the day off at first, but there’s plenty of things to do on Christmas Day in Montreal

Written by
Amie Watson
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Got your long johns in a knot because you think everything’s closed and there’s no things to do on Christmas in Montreal? Don’t worry, there’s plenty going on in this city on December 25th. On the dining and drinking side, expect to find seasonal cocktails in speakeasy bars and feasts in the city’s best Chinese restaurants alongside the best brunch and best breakfast spots. As for getting out and about, activities range from ice skating in Montreal to indie films, live music and some volunteer opportunities (‘tis always the season!).

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in Montreal

Where to find the best things to do on Christmas in Montreal

You’ll hear those sleighbells jingling (ring ting tingling) at the popular Bonsecours Basin's Old Port Natrel Skating Rink, a skating spot that stays open on Christmas Day. Rent skates on site or get your own skates sharpened, purchase a day pass and you’ll be on your merry way. There’s even a discount on family passes and skating is free for kids under six. Glide on, Montreal.

Go to Chinatown
Photograph: Krista Stucchio

2. Go to Chinatown

If there’s one kind of business that doesn’t close on Christian holidays, it’s the best restaurants in Chinatown. That means there’ll be plenty of hand-pulled noodles at Lan Zhou, dumplings at Qing Hua, spicy Szechuan fish at Chez Chili, barbecue pork at Dobe & Andy, bubble tea at Presotea or some of the city’s best dim sum at Imperial. Need some groceries? Grab some ramen, steak, tofu or durian at G&D or Heng Heng grocery if you need something to sub in for a dry Christmas turkey.

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See a movie
Photograph: Krists Luhaers

3. See a movie

Why fight the crowds at the major cinemas on Christmas when Montreal has such great indie theatres? Cinema du Parc is the downtown destination of choice for English language small-run gems, features and docs while the Dollar Cinema on Decarie Boulevard is the cheaper option, showing a mix of recent releases and cult classics for $2.50 a film. For French films, there’s Cinema Beaubien, a reputed cinema that shows international award winners and Quebecois productions.

Hoping to win yourself some cash for that toy Santa never delivered? Or maybe you just want drinks while playing slots? With its climate control and bright lights, you never know what day it is at the Montreal Casino anyway, and all those jangling sounds colourful games make it a year-round playground for adults. Please gamble responsibly, and if you win, consider giving a bit to those less fortunate.

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In addition to three masses on Christmas Eve (6pm, 9pm and midnight), St. Joseph’s Oratory usually hosts two masses on Christmas Day, including one with Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal. Whichever you attend, the Oratory’s world-class organ makes for an exceptional experience that will have the Christmas spirit running through you, from your nose to your toes. The Crypt Church also hosts several French services in the morning afternoon and evening as well as an English service and a Spanish service.

The Christmas-themed pop-up bar hosted by the Coldroom is back this year from November 30 to December 30 with its menu of specialty seasonal cocktails: Butterscotch rye in your Old Fashioned, anyone? No? There will be non-alcoholic options and food as well; think tourtière, christmac ‘n’ cheese, and melted brie with cranberries. You can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be mulled wine as well.

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Hotel brunches, lunches, dinners and take-out
Photograph: Rodolf Noël / LMGCOM

7. Hotel brunches, lunches, dinners and take-out

Hotels don’t close over Christmas. They’re full of guests and those guests need somewhere to eat, and that means many hotel restaurants also often stay open. The best even offer special holiday meals that lure non-guests to brunch, lunch and dinner. Our top picks include: Maison Boulud, where Chef Riccardo Bertolini does a special three-course Christmas brunch or four- or six-course dinner complete with black truffle and artisanal yule log; Renoir at the Sofitel, where French Chef Olivier Perret combines local, seasonal ingredients with French flair; and the exceptional takeout rotisserie chicken and roasted vegetables from the Marché Artisan at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel.

Every year, Jacques-Cartier Square in Montreal’s Old Port celebrates the season with music, beer, hot chocolate, mulled cider and photo booths. There’s a Nordic zone with art installations, a Quebec tasting bar of local products, warm-up zones and activities for kids and adults. The event runs from December 20-31, capping off with a huge New Year's Eve party.

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From December 12-30 at Place des Arts, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal will be again performing The Nutcracker. The Christmas classic, as organized by emeritus choreographer Fernand Nault, is family-friendly, runs twice daily at 2 pm and 7 pm for two hours with an intermission. Tickets for youths and children 17 years and under are 40% off. And for each ticket sold, $2 goes to The Nutcracker Fund for Children.

From skating and hot chocolate at Beaver Lake to snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or hiking the trails that wind from the northern tip of Peel Street or the western side of Parc Avenue to the famous Mont-Royal cross and lookout, there’s plenty of activity on the mountain on Christmas Day. From 9 am to 5 pm, Smith House will be open to visitors with its exhibition, Mount Royal, a Territory to Discover where you can learn about the history of the area as well as its plants and animals.

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Held at three Montreal parks, this annual celebration involves sipping hot cocoa, snuggling up in a blanket and listening to free music at Place Émilie-Gamelin, Parc Lahaie or Parc des Compagnons de St-Laurent. The Noël dans le parc organization both sells Christmas trees and donates them to families in need. There are French storytellers, sleigh rides, mulled wine, marshmallows toasted on an open fire and even sheep for kids to play with. Add Santa, elves, clowns and some giant stilt-walkers dressed as monkeys, and it’s a Christmas tradition everyone can get into.

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Volunteer at the Old Brewery Mission or Santropol Roulant's Meals on Wheels
Photograph: Old Brewery Mission / missionoldbrewery.ca

13. Volunteer at the Old Brewery Mission or Santropol Roulant's Meals on Wheels

It can actually be hard to get in to volunteer at the Old Brewery Mission over Christmas. The food bank and shelter has become such a go-to spot for volunteering during the holidays that it often gets too many volunteers (though it could certainly use your help during the rest of the year)! Remember that there are plenty of other worthy charities that get overlooked. To find them, contact Centraide, a resource network for non-profits, or call Santropol Roulant which runs a Meals on Wheels program year-round—including Christmas Day—that needs extra help over the holidays both cooking and delivering food to seniors in the area.

Carol at a seniors centre
Photograph: Marie Deschene / Tourisme Montréal

14. Carol at a seniors centre

Been practicing your four-part harmony to Silver Bells? Bring your songbooks or print off the lyrics to your favourite holiday tunes and call a senior’s centre to see if they’d like some carollers. While hospitals can be a little trickier about giving permission to enter patient wards, senior’s centres are often open to having some younger voices join the holiday celebrations.

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Any given year, more than 1,800 people sign up to volunteer at this car service for sleepy or inebriated revellers over the holiday season. Anyone who’s gone out for a drink over the holidays or feels too exhausted to safely get themselves home can call the service, which sends a team of three to drive the caller home safely. The service was founded in Quebec City by Jean-Marie de Koninck who figured too many people drive when they shouldn’t because they want a way to get their cars home. By having a volunteer drive the caller’s car, his goal was to take the risk out of the equation.

More of the best things to do around Christmas in Montreal

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