Picture this: store windows draped in garlands that are quaintly decorated with twinkle lights; a horse drawn trolley that shuffles you from store to store; wandering carolers dressed in Victorian garb of black top hats and green velveteen capes; and the aroma of hot apple cider wafting from stores. These are some of the sights, sounds and smells found in St. Jacobs at this time of the year that bring the festive spirit alive in a way few communities can match.
Starting in mid-November, St. Jacobs is the place to be if you love the Christmas season. The village is about a one-hour drive from Hamilton, and is a year-round destination for thousands of people who are drawn in by its assortment of boutiques, shops and restaurants, not to mention the quaint ambience. During the six weeks leading up to Christmas, however, it excels in capturing the spirit of the season. During St. Jacobs Sparkles, the streets are decorated in an old Christmas style that takes visitors back to the days of carolers and horse-drawn trolleys.
Touring is made more enjoyable – and nostalgic – when you are on a horse drawn buggy or sleigh. St Jacobs Horse Drawn Tours offers various types of tours throughout the year, including winter sleigh rides, private bookings and educational tours, all in the name of rustic country adventure.
On Friday nights, you can warm up with a free hot cider and cookies offered at several stores, or you can get a hot cider at the St. Jacobs’ volunteer fire department bonfire. Down the street at Chocolates N’ More, you can watch as a giant Belgian chocolate Santa is made (on Thursday and Friday nights only), and on other nights, just indulge in the rich chocolate smells inside the store.
No trip to St. Jacobs is complete without going down to the Visitor’s Centre to learn more about The Mennonite Story. The centre has a large exhibit of photos and artifacts that bring you closer to the history and culture of Mennonites, and it explains how they found their home in St. Jacobs.
Then, of course, there is the St. Jacobs Farmers Market, which first opened in 1975 and is the largest year-round farmers’ market in Canada. The market, much like St. Jacobs village, gets into the Christmas spirit with decorations. The market houses some 400 vendors, who sell everything from artisanal breads to handmade slippers. One of the all-time favourite booths at Christmas is Gracie’s Christmas Cookies. Since starting her business in 1985, Grace Frey and her staff of 30 have baked all their cookies from scratch, including her famous almond crescent cookies and caramel chocolate biscuits.
For those hoping to find a handmade Christmas gift, there’s a wide selection available from stores such as St. Jacobs Mennonite Quilts or Conestoga River Pottery. When it comes to one-of-a-kind shops, it’s hard to top the Artefacts Salvage and Design shop. It’s a little off the main street of town but well worth the visit for its selection of unusual items that have been rescued from buildings that were going to be torn down. Owners take some of the more interesting architectural elements, like wooden fireplace mantels and tin ceiling tiles, and give them new life.
St Jacobs really is a Southern Ontario gem, and it’s well worth the short drive from here at any time of year, but especially now when thoughts of sugarplums are dancing in your head.
St. Jacobs Horse Drawn Tours
Written by Denise Davy