Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers bring the classic tale of The Nutcracker to life with the addition of Canadian elements such as polar bears during performances at Victoria’s Royal Theatre

Get into the Christmas spirit

A guide to some of the many Vancouver Island festivities that can help you get into the mood for the holidays

Maybe your iPhone failed to notify you. Maybe you put the calendar on ignore.

But today marks the beginning of the first weekend of December.And you only have three of these weekends to get you into the spirit of Christmas.

If that spirit sometimes feels hard to find in the rush and bustle of shopping and preparation, Vancouver Island offers plenty of ways to help kindle it.

Here are your VI Free Daily picks for Island holiday happenings to get you in the mood.

Holiday train rides in Duncan

The BC Forest Discovery Centre’s Christmas Express is offering 14 nights of holiday magic this year.

Ride the steam train with your family through a forest especially decorated to be a winter wonderland.

The centre is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., with the train leaving every 20 minutes from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The train runs Dec. 2-4, then Dec. 9-11, and finally for eight straight nights from Dec. 16-23.

More here.

Festive lights bloom

The Magic of Christmas will returned this week to The Butchart Gardens with lots to see and do for the entire family.

Beginning at 5 p.m. tens of thousands of Christmas lights will be on display at this year’s The Magic of Christmas Light Up.

There will also be skating, carollers, complimentary carousel rides and more. Admission gates close at 9 p.m. but visitors can view the light display until 10 p.m.

Christmas festivities at the Gardens run until Jan. 6. For the schedule of events and more information, click here.

Christmas Story in Chemainus

The Chemainus Theatre Festival’s holiday presentation A Christmas Story is infused with the warmth of family Christmases past.

The story is set about 1940, but parts of your own favourite Christmases will wrap arms warmly around you as you enjoy the tale of young Ralphie dreaming and scheming for an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle. Call the Chemainus Theatre Festival box office at 1-877-565-7738 and reserve now.

More here.

Tree hunting in Nanaimo

Mike Gogo’s family has been in the Christmas tree-selling business for 84 years and according to him, there is nothing like a real Christmas tree.

“(Artificial trees) go great with a plastic turkey,” quipped the tree farm and sawmill owner.

With Christmas quickly approaching, the traffic heading down South Forks Road to get to Gogo’s farm is intensifying. Hunting Christmas trees can be a chance for families to bond, as grandparents, parents and children can make an outing of it.

Gogo will be selling trees until 1 p.m. on Dec. 24 and is open from dawn until dark.

More here.

Nutcracking everywhere

The holiday dance tradition returns to:

Nanaimo: with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet Dec. 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Theatre.

More here.

Victoria: with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Dec. 2 to 4 at the Royal Theatre, in conjunction with Dance Victoria and the Victoria Symphony. More here.

Duncan: with the Royal City Youth Ballet at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre, Dec. 16-17. More here.

Scrooge meets Dunsmuir

Once again Craigdarroch Castle will be home to Jason Steven’s one-man production of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol.

Stevens’ presents the tale of ghosts, regret, love and Christmas redemption in an hour-long intimate performance set in the Castle’s Dance Hall. Stevens’ tour-de-force performance has become a much loved classic event at the Castle.

Performances will be held Dec. 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 20 to 23 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and is suitable for ages 13 and up. Tickets are $20 for adults.

More here.

Christmas Panto in Saanich

For many Saanich families, catching the latest panto from St. Luke’s Players is at the top of their holiday list.

And St. Luke’s is granting holiday wishes again this year, bringing Aladdin to the stage for a 13-show run between Dec. 16 and Jan. 2.

Panto is short for pantomime, a British staple of an audience-participation gender-swapped outrageous play that traditionally runs from Boxing Day to New Year’s.

“It has very much become a family tradition over Christmas. Families have made that part of their Christmas and they rush out to get tickets,” said co-director Merry Hallsor.

More here.

A West Coast kind of light

For the next seven weeks, families, sweethearts and visitors to the West Coast can meander the Tofino Botanical Gardens amidst the allure of a new outdoor light display.

Between 15,000 to 20,000 LED string lights have been intricately woven into tapestries and suspended from structures to reflect the shapes around the garden.“It’s not a classic neighbourhood light thing that you would see or even a commercial Christmas light thing that you would see downtown. It’s a little more, in places, impressionistic or abstract,” said Tofino Botanical Gardens director George Patterson.

The Tofino Winterlights exhibit will be open nightly from Nov. 25 to Jan. 8 between 5:30-9 p.m. with various performances for the duration. More here.

Oak Bay twinkles

The Oak Bay Christmas Festival decks the Oak Bay village in thousands of twinkling lights and seasonal decorations, creating a beautiful atmosphere for holiday shopping, galley touring or an evening out.

Following last Sunday’s official light up, tonight is the Sea of Lights off shore and Saturday (Dec. 3) is the always anticipated Lighted Truck Parade.

More on the Sea of Lights here.

Sidney sparkles

Lights will shine bright on Sunday, Dec. 4 to kick off the holiday season in Sidney this weekend.

The annual Sidney Sparkles Parade features a variety of floats, vehicles and groups of people, helping to get the community into the holiday spirit.

People can expect to see some of their favourite floats from past years, new participants, music and “a mixture of good ones for the kids.”Hundreds of people are expected to line Beacon Avenue. Following the parade, the Sidney North Saanich Yacht Club will have a collection of boats on display at the Port Sidney Marina.

People can wander down to see them decorated for a Lighted Boat Parade, set to begin at around 6:15 p.m., weather permitting.

And don’t forget to start the weekend with the Breakfast With Santa on Sat., Dec. 3 at the Mary Winspear Centre. The Sidney Lions Club is serving up pancakes, for a fee, starting at 8:30 a.m. Santa arrives at 9 a.m. for pictures with the kids.

Alberni by boat or train

Celebrate the season on Port Alberni’s waterfront on Sunday, Dec. 4 with the Sail Past at Harbour Quay. The Blue Marlin Inn resurrected this tradition a few years ago, offering prizes to the top three best decorated boats. The event runs from 5–9 p.m.

The Salvation Army will be on site collecting non-perishable food items, and there will be hotdogs, hot chocolate, a fire pit, fireworks and Santa Claus

Santa will ride the rails in Port Alberni aboard the No. 7 steam train for the annual Santa Train on Saturday, Dec. 10 and Sunday, Dec. 11. The train runs between the Port Alberni Train Station and Kitsuksis Trestle, allowing Santa Claus time to visit with every child on the train before it returns to the station. Saturday runs will be at 11 a.m., 12, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. Sunday runs will be at 11 a.m., and 12, 2 and 3 p.m.

Tickets are $6 plus GST, and must be purchased before the event. Limited tickets are still available through Echo Centre, which is open until 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 9. Please call 250-723-2181 or drop in to 4255 Wallace St. Please be at the station 20 minutes before your departure time, and dress warmly.

Check out the harbour Quay light-up here.

The Spirit of Sooke

Dec. 4 – Santa Claus Parade through town centre, begins at 5 p.m. Treats and hot beverages available following parade.

Dec. 4 to Jan. 4 – Festival of Trees.     Every year, Sooke Festival of Trees transforms SEAPARC Leisure Complex into a lush forest of beautifully decorated trees to raise funds for BC Children’s Hospital.

Victoria and Ladysmith

The big Light Up night may be past, but the bright lights of Ladysmith continue to shine until the new year. For some of the many activities available in Greater Victoria, click here.

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