More picture snapping, less gift shopping at the Toronto Christmas Market

This weekend, stores across the city were swarming with last minute gift shoppers, and the Toronto Christmas Market was no exception.

Located in the quaint Distillery District, the market boasted a number of vendors with unique offerings ranging from Matryoshka (Russian nesting) dolls to carved wooden ornaments. Yesterday was the last day of the month-long event, and Torontonians came out in large numbers for an opportunity to experience all the hype. Visitors could drink mulled wine and ride the carousel or the Ferris wheel, and for the first time in the market’s history, guests were charged cover on weekends. This comes as no surprise considering its increase in popularity; it has quickly become one of the things to do this time of year along with other Christmas-in-the-city standbys like skating in Nathan Phillips Square or attending the Santa Claus Parade.

Yet unlike those other activities where the hoopla is largely defined by, well, the activity – skating, watching the parade – the Christmas Market is more about atmosphere and less about shopping. One obvious explanation: the steep prices.

“[It’s] great if you’re an upper middle class family and not a student,” says Cali Lopez, a student at Glendon College, York University. Others expressed the same sentiment, citing the high price tags as the biggest deterrent to actually shopping. In fact, a majority of the people I spoke with said they didn’t really intend to buy anything at all and attending the market was more of an opportunity to enjoy the festive mood and munch on yummy snacks while enjoying the company of their friends and family.

Francesca Kennedy has gone to the Christmas Market for three years including this year and didn’t find anything she would really buy as a gift. “I just really like the atmosphere, and checking out the art galleries around there,” she explained. It’s easy to see where she’s coming from; the sights and smells make for a very warm environment and the gorgeous Christmas tree serves as a spectacular centrepiece for the venue. At the end of what would be the final night of #TCM15, visitors gathered for a World Carolling Challenge to beat the record for the most people carolling at the same time – just when you thought the event couldn’t seem more like a Christmas movie.

But as in the movies, things aren’t always perfect. The crowds at the Christmas Market may not have been as purposeful as the crowds that swelled the concourses of Yorkdale and the Eaton Centre, but they were still crowds and for some shoppers they made for a bit of an unpleasant experience. The tendency to be jostled by the crowd and effectively swept past booths made it difficult for some to stop and appreciate the vendors’ wares.

In fairness, the market is meant to be both a place of commerce and celebration. If nothing else, visitors got a cute picture out of the entire experience and for most people, especially in our Instagram-obsessed age, that alone was worth the five dollar entrance fee.

The Toronto Christmas Market ran from November 20 – December 20 this year in the historic Distillery District. This is its sixth year running.

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