Story by Jody Robbins
Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist
JASPER, ALBERTA — With a Winter Zen cocktail in one hand and Santa’s Vacation Sipper in the other, I make my way through throngs of revellers decked out in their Christmas finery. The great hall is flush with festive decorations and the anticipation level is as high as Christmas Eve at the North Pole. And then I spot him, the man of the hour — Santa Claus.
Only one thing is out of place: it’s the beginning of November. But Christmas comes early to The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. For the past 25 years the rustic mountain retreat has hosted Christmas in November, a 10-day extravaganza that brings in Canada’s top lifestyle gurus to talk turkey, cocktails, crafts and holiday decor.
Despite having a grandson whose birthday falls during the event, Shirley Taylor hasn’t missed a single Christmas in November since its inception in 1988. “How can you stay away? It’s the most the magical place in the world. It’s so much fun and is never the same,” she says.
With a light dusting of snow on the ground and Santa making the rounds, the event rekindles that Christmas morning euphoria you had as a kid. Here, chestnuts really roast on open fires, mugs of hot chocolate are passed around during check-in and one can wear Christmas sweaters without fear of being ridiculed.
Decked out to the nines, the iconic Canadian lodge transforms into a winter wonderland. Trees are trimmed, luxury lakeside cabins are ablaze with twinkling lights and resident elk nosh on grass just outside your cabin door. Fetching seasonal table-scapes inspire guests ready to roll up their sleeves to learn the latest holiday trends at this laid back yule school.
“It’s such a special getaway that encompasses all the best of the holidays — the food, the wine, the decorations, the celebrations, a visit from Santa, and all the glitz and glam. We learn, we have fun, we relax in the spa, and then head home — inspired for the holidays,” says Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada judge and annual Christmas in November presenter Julie Van Rosendaal.
Canadian celebrity chefs such as Michael Smith, Anna Olson, and Bob Blumer, and lifestyle gurus Karl Lohnes and Nik Manojlovich also share their secrets for successful holiday entertaining and decorating during demonstration classes and interactive luncheons.
“If you don’t entertain with shrimp or crab cakes, well! Your guests just might never come again,” warns former Canadian Living food editor and recent recipient of the Order of Canada, Elizabeth Baird.
Over 1,500 guests attend the two- to three-day sessions during the festival and the majority make an annual event out of it.
“It just doesn’t feel like Christmas if we don’t come,” says six-time attendee Catherine Carter-Snell. “It draws you into the spirit of the holiday versus the commercial aspect of Christmas.”
Even for celebrity chef Smith — who shares personal family photos in a slideshow before his session on the ultimate Christmas hamper — this is more than just a gig on his calendar. “Jasper is such an iconic part of Canada. I come for my annual dose of the Rockies. This is the only event I do all year that my family comes with me. Each one of my kids learned to swim in this pool,” says Smith, a resident of Prince Edward Island.
For those who aren’t as into the holiday hoopla, splurge-worthy spa treatments such as Gingerbread Man-icure and Mistle-toes, ensure those with Scrooge-like tendencies are still able to kick back and soak up the spirit of the season.
“Some people go for the cooking, others for the crafts, some just to get away, but whatever your focus, you’re in good company with kindred spirits,” avows Taylor.
After I’ve had a word with Santa, tasted the best holiday cheesecake ever (thanks, Anna Olson) and gotten the skinny on low-calorie Christmas cocktails from Vancouver mixologist Micah Dew, I’m raring for the holidays to begin. For me and my newfound festive friends, the countdown is on — for next year’s Christmas in November, that is.
MORE ABOUT THE FAIRMONT JASPER PARK LODGE
Address: 1 Old Lodge Road, Jasper, AB (see map below)
Telephone: 780-852-3301 or 1-866-540-4454 (toll free)
Rates: Two- to Three-Night Christmas in November packages from $849 per person include:
- Evening reception
- Meals including a holiday brunch and gala dinner
- Instructional seminars