I love Halifax. It’s my favourite city, and I consider myself lucky to live here.
There’s always a but.
Halifax’s ‘but’ is that it’s a small city in a big country. And while I actually think it’s a perfect size for day-to-day living – I find large cities annoyingly crowded and cumbersome to get around – it being so small means that special events can be a bit limited. And because Québec City, the nearest large population centre, is about 1000km away, touring events like concerts and musicals don’t tend to make the journey any farther east.
That’s all slowly changing, though. While an eye-rolling number of “Coast-to-Coast Tours” still stop at Montréal, more of them come Halifax’s way than did when I moved here 20+ years ago. And as for locally produced events, the festival scene has expanded significantly. (Although COVID has, of course, put a crimp in that growth.) When I first arrived here, the only festivals I ever heard about were Greek Fest and the Buskers Festival. Now there are a tonne – Diwali, the Maritime Tattoo Festival (the ink type of tattoo, not the military showcase), Geequinox, Dine Around, the Lebanese Festival, the Seaport Beer Fest, Nocturne, Hal-Con, Burger Week, the Harvest Wine Festival, and a bunch more.
And now, there’s a Christmas market.
Somewhat counterintuitively, considering how much we dislike Christmas, Ron and I are huge Christmas market fans. We’ve been in love with them since we experienced our first ones in Berlin over ten years ago. We reminisce about them every year, and have made a pact that we will get back to Germany at Christmastime someday, just to travel around and visit more of them.
But in the meantime, at least now there’s one we can visit in Halifax. It’s called Evergreen, and unlike most things, it started in 2020. Somehow it flew under our radar last year, so our first year visiting was its second in existence.
The festival spans the waterfront, with plenty of light displays adorning the boardwalk, along with a Ferris Wheel, a maze, and some stages for live performances. Local restaurants offer special soups and drinks (although a lot of them were closed this year due to the current COVID surge).
Plus there’s a marketplace in cabin-like stalls, one of which was staffed by a very good boy.
While there were a few crafters and food and coffee shops, most of the vendors were local distilleries, which seems appropriate for the city with the most bars per capita in Canada. Nova Scotians do like our sociables, after all. After drinking Glühwein and Grog in Berlin’s markets, it was a little disappointing that Nova Scotia’s open container laws – which essentially boil down to “Nope!” – prevented the distilleries from serving drinks at Evergreen. But that disappointment was offset by the fact that, for the first time since moving to Nova Scotia, I could get a BeaverTail in the cold weather.
BeaverTails are a deep fried pastry that originated in Ottawa in the ’70s. They’re one of my favourite treats, which I’ve always associated with cold weather. They were a regular staple when I’d go skating on the Rideau Canal, or spend a wintry day exploring the shops in the Byward Market. One of the most precious memories I have is of being on Parliament Hill on New Year’s Eve, watching the fireworks go off over the Peace Tower, while eating a BeaverTail.
There’s a knack to eating one. You’ve gotta sort of cup it under your chin and let the warmth radiate off it, keeping the cold away from your face. But it doesn’t stay warm for long. The trick is to eat it fast enough that it doesn’t get cold, but not so fast that you miss out on that warm, sugary goodness wafting up your nose before you stuff it in your mouth.
There were no BeaverTails in Halifax when I first moved here. I remember when the hut first appeared on the waterfront, I all but dragged Ron over to it and insisted he had to try one. We’ve gotten them on occasion since then – a Classic (cinnamon and sugar) for me, and a Killaloe Sunrise (cinnamon, sugar, and lemon) for him – and every single time I’ve told him they’re so much better in the winter. Until recently, the hut was only open during the summer months, but finally, at Evergreen, he was able to experience what I’d been talking about for all these years.
I’m unsure he got what the fuss was all about.
I’m not going to lie. Given the choice between the Evergreen Festival in Halifax and the Christmas markets in Berlin, the German ones win, hands down. They’re bigger, with far more food and drink and vendors. But they’ve also been around for a hell of a lot longer than two years, which gives them an unfair advantage in the competition.
I look forward to watching Evergreen close the gap in the Christmases to come.