Celebrating Christmas Online in Vancouver in 2020

A version of this story first appeared on Inside Vancouver in November 2020

Many local holiday happenings have responded to 2020’s unique challenges in one of two ways: they’ve cancelled or they’re going ahead with strict COVID-safe protocols. But a third way has also popped up this year––and it’s a great opportunity to fire-up your holiday spirit without even leaving home.


A hatful of Metro Vancouver festive activities will be taking themselves online this season. From Christmas markets to tree-lighting parties to Yuletide shows, these virtual approaches are ideal for celebrating the holidays within your bubble––while also supporting organizations hard-hit hard by this year’s situation.


Here at the Vancouver Christmas Guide, we’ve been tracking all the latest changes to local holiday happenings. Many of our readers are telling us that, this time around, they’ll be mixing both in-person and online festive activities. Fancy adding some at-home holiday fun to your schedule? Read on for our recommendations––and don’t forget to be Be Kind, Be Calm and Be Christmassy.


Christmas Shopping


We love browsing Christmas fairs and markets for unique gifts. But while some of the region’s top pressie-buying events have postponed this year, others are open for online shopping.


You won't be able to hang out at their decorated Shaughnessy mansion this season, but Christmas at Hycroft is staging a virtual holiday festival instead. Artisan gifts, edible treats and cleverly curated gift boxes are available––there’s even a silent auction––while timed pick-up slots are available onsite between November 19 and December 13.


Also moving online this year, Got Craft? is showcasing the creativity of more than 70 local and cross-Canada makers via a virtual pop-up market. It’s a great way to find unique gifts for those stubborn holdouts on your list. Delivery-wise, there’s free curbside pick-up in Vancouver or a flat-rate shipping option if you prefer to stay home.


They’re not the only virtual marketplaces to cover off all your Yuletide gift shopping in 2020. Check out the online-only edition of the city’s popular Japan Market. And don't miss the gigantic array of gift ideas available via this year’s virtual West Coast Christmas Show.


Festive Events


Some of our most popular annual holiday traditions operate outside, which usually means wrapping up for some chilly weather. But the upside of this year’s restrictions is that you can easily stay home in your PJs to enjoy some local festive fun––while mixing your own Christmas cocktails at the same time.


Surrey’s one-night-only Tree Lighting event has expanded into a huge, free holiday festival over the years. And while this year won't be an in-person happening, they are pulling out all the stops with a sparkling streaming party on November 21. Available via Facebook and YouTube Live, that means local choirs, dancers and performers plus comedy sketches and appearances from Santa and Mrs. Claus––plus the official switch-on of a giant Christmas tree.


Vancouver’s own Tree Lighting is also taking place virtually this year. It will be screened live on CTV at 6pm on November 27. And if you’re a fan of the sparkling lights that adorn downtown’s St. Paul’s Hospital every Christmas, tune in online from 6pm on November 19 for their virtual switch-on celebration––carol-singing choirs included. Don't worry if you miss the launch: the hospital’s fundraising illuminations will also be live-streamed online until January 4.


Stage Shows


The city's hidden-gem Metro Theatre is taking its intriguing version of A Christmas Carol online this year, while the Arts Club’s Twelve Dates of Christmas will also be a digital-only presentation. Booking tickets for these––and the shows below–– is a great way to support local theatre during this difficult time.


The beloved East Van Panto­­­­––a must-do every year for many Vancouverites––is offering the live-streamed Panto Come Home! from December 17 onwards. The family-friendly show will feature a sparkling menu of songs, gags and silliness as the team mines eight years of brilliant pantos for this greatest hits extravaganza.


Another festive favourite is Goh Ballet’s Nutcracker, a lavish traditional production usually staged at downtown’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre. That’s not possible this time around, but that hasn't stopped them from creating a unique online-only production for 2020. An innovative reimagining of a classic, The Nutcracker: Beyond the Stage fuses contemporary themes with Tchaikovsky’s well-known storyline.


Popular show tunes will feature in Home for the Holidays, a special digital production from Richmond’s Gateway Theatre. Presenting songs from highly successful past productions (including Annie, The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz), this show is a great opportunity to sing-along at home to some beloved classics. Initially broadcast on December 18, it will be available online until January 1. Alternatively, why not consider the 2020 online edition of Christmas Presence––presented by Vancouver's Pacific Theatre? It features festive music, poems and much more.


And if you enjoyed last year’s fabulous Holiday the the Elbow Room Café at the Cultch, you’ll be delighted to know the twinkle-eyed team is back in 2020 for the one-night-only Quarantine at the Elbow Room Cafe. The live-streamed show runs on December 12 and will include favourite characters Bryan, Patrick, Tabby and more singing, dancing and joking their way through a night of celebratory shenanigans. And if you can never have enough Scrooge-based action over the holidays, check out Bah Humbug!, a live recording of last year's finale run of the beloved, decade-long show starring Jim Byrnes.


Christmas Concerts


Music, of course, is the food of Christmas love for many festive fans. Evocative songs, nostalgic carols and stirring tunes are the reasons many of us typically catch a local concert or two during the holidays. In-person live shows won't be taking place this time around­­––but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some toe-tapping Yuletide melodies over the holidays.


Fans of soaring gospel songs should book ahead for December 12’s Good Tidings Classic, a video performance featuring soul-stirring renditions from the city’s Good Noise Gospel Choir. After December 12, the show will also be available throughout the holiday period. And if you’re up for a singalong, join the Vancouver Bach Choir’s online Christmas concert, complete with renditions of some beloved Yuletide carols.


Alternatively, the city's beloved Chor Leoni male voice choir is presenting an online concert of magical Yuletide music, available from December 18 onwards. And the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is also back again with 2020's A VSO Christmas Story show, hosted by Christoper Gaze.


And if you’re one of those locals who has discovered the annual Music for the Winter Solstice, an alternative holiday concert usually staged in Heritage Hall on Main Street, you’ll be delighted to know there will be a December 16 Watch Party online. It will feature recorded performances from five years of concerts.


Need more? Classical fans should catch December 23’s Italian Baroque Festive Celebration, presented by Early Music Vancouver as well as the Schubert Holiday Concert presented by the Vancouver Chamber Music Society. And popular actor Tom Jackson will also be telling festive stories and singing beloved and contemporary Christmas songs via his online The Huron Carole concert on December 11.


For more Christmas activity ideas, check out the Vancouver Christmas Guide. Created by Lonely Planet travel writer John Lee, the site is the only online guide to 2020’s festive happenings in and around the city. Profiling dozens of holiday events, shows and attractions, it is co-authored with Max the cat, who writes the site’s gift reviews and often appears on its @MyVanChristmas Twitter feed.