The opening ceremony will be held on Parliament Hill, December 2 at 7 p.m., with thousands of candle-carrying Canadians and visitors cheering as a giant “on” button on the stage is pressed to begin a stunning pyrotechnics display before a choir sings Christmas songs.

Now in its 31st year, Christmas Lights Across Canada was originally just an Ottawa event, created to light up city landmarks, mark the season and add a bit of a zing to winter in the capital. Then the provinces and territories joined in, with each capital city installing its own lighting displays and organizing switching-on ceremonies. One can’t help but wonder how all this might look from space, as regular city lights suddenly become a hundred (or more) times brighter, dotting the landscape from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts and up into the Arctic in a display of national unity.

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But the national capital is the focal point, where hundreds of thousands of lights dazzle the waiting crowds along Ottawa’s Confederation Boulevard — not just one single highway but a series of streets forming the capital’s ceremonial route, encircling the heart of the city before crossing the Ottawa River (and thereby the Quebec border) via Alexandra Bridge to the city of Gatineau.

Further enhancing the Parliament Hill event are the friendly volunteers who hand out candles, provide information, and — best of all — distribute free BeaverTails, deep-fried pastries with various toppings that are so delicious you will briefly care not a jot for your arteries. Get one early, with a free hot chocolate, before they’re all gone.

Even if you can’t make it to the opening ceremony, the lights stay in place until January 7 and will be illuminated daily from dusk to the early hours. There’s plenty to do in Ottawa in winter to occupy the daylight hours. Fun can be had on the frozen Rideau Canal, turned into a gigantic skating rink in winter with skates for rent and refreshment stands along the way. If that’s too cold for you, head for the superb Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, the National Gallery of Canada, or investigate the local food scene in ByWard Market and the rich choice of downtown restaurants.

Wait and see

Stoking up the anticipation, the organizers of the event, Canadian Heritage, are keeping details of “some exciting new programing” for the opening ceremony under wraps until nearer the time. Full details will be released on their website,, toward the end of November. Also visit for more to see and do in the city.

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