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 as you listen to wandering carolers dressed in Victorian garb of black top hats and green velveteen capes; 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 Oakville or Burlington, 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. The streets are decorated in old Christmas style that takes visitors back to the days of carolers and trolleys.
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 explains how they found their home in St. Jacobs.
On weekends the kids will enjoy the St. Jacobs and Aberfoyle Model Railway, a hand-built model railway that depicts Southern Ontario in the late 1950’s.
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 is open Thursday and Saturday from 7 am to 3:30 pm. The market, much like St. Jacobs village, gets into the Christmas spirit with decorations. Despite being burned to the ground in a devastating fire last September, the community pulled together to rebuild the building and it reopened within three months. 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 chipits.
For those hoping to find a handmade Christmas gift, there’s a wide selection available from stores such as Grey Fort 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 in the holiday season. For more information, go to stjacobs.com
By Denise Davy