Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 20, 2017
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Pacific yuletide

Vancouver Island’s wacky festivities celebrate the season without snow

Every weekend until Christmas, Victorians will gather at the Inner Harbour to see the first ever Santa Ballet performed by boats — just another of the creative and sometimes offbeat ideas that Lotus Landers can pull off in their mild winter climate.

The ballet is a spin-off of a Sunday summer attraction that has been going for 18 years: a ballet performed with little harbour boats using RCMP Musical Ride maneuvers to the tune of The Blue Danube.

The Christmas variation will be backed by traditional musical favourites, but this time the five harbour boats will be decked out to look like Santa’s sleigh pulled by four tiny reindeer. Because the Santa Ballet (Inner Harbour; www.victoriaharbour.com; every Saturday and Sunday at 7pm, November 21-December 20) takes place after sunset, the boats will disappear in the darkness so Santa will seem to be hovering over the water.

When the Empress Hotel first opened in 1908 in Victoria, it set up the city’s biggest Christmas tree and served large mugs of rough cider. Today, that solo tree has grown into Victoria’s Festival of Trees (721 Government Street, Victoria; tel: 250-380-1527; www.bcchf.ca/festivaloftrees; November 19-January 4) that transforms the Fairmont Empress into a veritable glittery forest.

Now 18 years old, the Festival features 50 trees and is a “must” family tradition. Each tree is decorated and donated by a local business, organization or individual. Usually the trees are dazzlingly beautiful, but they can also be wacky or irreverent. As visitors come to ooh and ah, they’re encouraged to vote for their favourites, proceeds from which go to BC Children’s Hospital.

Other towns on the Island have their own Festival of Trees. Nanaimo (Malaspina University-College, 900 Fifth Street, Nanaimo; tel: 250-740-6212; www.mala.ca/festival; November 23-29) will celebrate its 15th this year. And Port Alberni (4277 Stamp Street, Port Alberni; tel: 800-563-6590; www.bcchf.ca/festivaloftrees; November 26-January 3) is hosting its first ever.

Market Values

Christmas markets stretch back more than 700 years to medieval Germany and Austria from where the idea spread to other European countries and eventually to the US and Canada. Modern yuletide markets on Vancouver Island now offer a cornucopia of crafts and art. One of the oldest is Out of Hand (Crystal Gardens, 713 Douglas Street, Victoria; tel: 250-737-1788; www.outofhand.ca; November 20-22), now in its 21st year. This juried fair advertises itself as Victoria’s premier showcase for contemporary crafts and artisanal food.

Even older is a market held in the newly renovated Crystal Gardens, behind the Empress Hotel, where exhibits echo that building’s original purpose — it was the place where Victoria residents came to splash in the city’s saltwater pool. Many artists aim for the unusual such as functional lamps made out of gourds.

The Kris Kringle Christmas Fair (747 Jones Street, Qualicum Beach; tel: 250-758-9750; www.kriskringle.ca; November 26-29) in Qualicum Beach is another well-established event, now in its 15th year. This juried fair has 120 artists and craftspeople from all over BC and draws in locals with its groaning list of door prizes. Come look and you might win a shopping spree, a stay at the five-star Tigh-Na-Mara hotel or a bed-and-breakfast stay at the scenic Aerie Resort.

Commotion in Comox

Exchanging gifts also has roots in the ancient Pacific Northwest custom of the potlatch among the Haida, Coast Salish and Kwakwaka’wakw. A huge feast would be given for families and guests at which a profusion of prized gifts would be distributed. Like the potlatches, Vancouver Island fairs overflow with preserved food, handmade toys, clothes and jewellery.

Further up Island in the Comox Valley, two fairs have been around for 15 years and bring in early Christmas shoppers to check out old-fashioned quality; they are the Charles Dickens Christmas Craft Faire (411 Anderton Avenue, Courtenay; tel: 250-339-9891; November 13-15) and the Last Chance Arts and Crafts Fair (same address; December 5-6). Here you’ll see birdhouses, wind chimes, candles and candlesticks along with works by photographers and artists that exhibit the area’s distinctively creative touch. For example, Debra Selkirk makes unusual jewellery from Hornby Island stones and Solomon Woodworks produce a line of wooden jewellery.

Over on Mt. Washington, snow-school professionals stage the Mt. Washington Torchlight Parade (www.mtwashington.ca; carolling and tube rides December 23; fireworks and parade December 26) every Boxing Day from the top of the Whisky Jack chair to the base lodge. After a display of fireworks, the skiers, holding tiki torches, glide down the mountain creating a red serpent of light and two days before Christmas, carollers sing by candlelight at the Ozone Zone where kids can zoom down the mountain in jet-age tubes.

Garden of lights

Volunteers at the Butchart Gardens (800 Benvenuto Avenue, Brentwood Bay; tel: 866-652-4422; www.butchartgardens.com; December1-January 6) work more than six weeks to string up tens of thousands of coloured lights to prepare for the gardens’ famous light show. Walkways and lamp posts are festooned in garlands made of holly and winter berries and vignettes showing partridges in pear trees or golden rings from the Twelve Days of Christmas are scattered throughout the gardens. If visitors can tear themselves away from the waterfalls and fountains created with light and music, they can enjoy an outdoor skating rink and lots of music and carollers. New this season is a privately donated old-fashioned carousel featuring different animals from around the world.

The lesser known Milner Gardens (2179 West Island Highway, Qualicum; tel: 250-752-8573; www.viu.ca; December 4-6) near Parksville also bring in local musicians and singers to enhance the mood set by 50,000 lights and displays that take up to 500 hours to set up. One special attraction is the gardener’s cottage stuffed to the rafters with donated teddy bears — guess their number and win a prize.

Every city has its tours to see homes gaudily decorated with Santas, reindeer and lights but lucky Victoria with its Mediterranean climate can offer a tour with a difference. The Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition holds an annual Christmas Lights Ride (2340 Richmond, Victoria; tel: 250-480-5155; gvcc@gvcc.bc.ca; participants meet at 6:30pm, December 19) to the best houses. The cyclists get in the spirit by gussying up their bikes in streamers and flashing lights.

Victoria’s Maritime Museum of BC (28 Bastion Square, Victoria; tel: 250-385-4222; www.mmbc.bc.ca; November 28, December 3, 6 & 8) puts a spin on the traditional wreath by holding Nautical Wreath Workshops, a hands-on event that creates wreaths of knotted rope.

Bethlehem, BC

Along with pageants, parades and markets, several communities retell the Christmas story. In Sooke, where the Baptist Church has a particularly large building, the auditorium is transformed into a Bethlehem Walk (Sooke Baptist Church, 7110 West Coast Road, Sooke; tel: 250-642-3424; December 5-7) circa the Year Zero. Three “streets” filled with 45 shops are filled with costumed volunteers that recall what that first Christmas must have looked like.

The warm fragrance of baking wafts out of a bakery shop; in a booth of relics you can buy “Goliath’s spoon and fork;” a bookseller gives out Gideon bibles; there are wise words by a rabbi and a scribe who will write your name in Hebrew. At a photo booth, visitors from the year 2009 can get into costume and have their pictures taken and in the very last booth actors portray the Holy Family.

Sooke’s Walk was modelled after Parksville’s Bethlehem Walk (550 Pym Street, Parksville; tel: 250-248-6322; www.parksvillebaptist.org; December 12-15), which was the brain child of Pastor Gordon Reeve of Parksville Baptist Church. Here, covered alleys meander off a main street where there are blacksmiths, olive shops with presses, scribes, a synagogue and a bakery giving out Dead Sea rolls.

Donkeys, sheep, cows and chickens wander around the more than 300 costumed volunteers. As many as 10,000 visitors check out this new Bethlehem over the four-day period. The pièce de résistance is a stable in which Mary and Joseph hover protectively over a manger holding a newly born “Jesus” — a real baby.

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