Durham Downtown Holiday Celebrations You Can Still Expect for 2020

Katherine Ryalen

There is still plenty of holiday cheer to be found in Durham Region this year. Here are just a few of the ways our Downtowns of Durham are keeping the small-town spirit alive this Christmas season.

Holiday Cheer and Historic Main Street—the two concepts are practically synonymous this time of year. Here in Durham Region, we have an abundance of charming downtowns, so it goes without saying that Durham is home to tons of festivals and celebrations to help get our residents and visitors into the Christmas spirit. At least, that was true in ordinary years.

2020, as we all know, is far from ordinary. With the arrival of COVID-19, our downtowns have had to cancel or reimagine many of our beloved holiday events. But that doesn’t mean there is no holiday cheer! Our Business Improvement Areas (BIA) and townships have regrouped and modified their celebrations, and even developed new initiatives, to ensure there is plenty of safe and festive fun to go around.

Read on to learn just a few of the ways our downtowns are keeping the small-town spirit alive during this time.

Reminder: To help us safely celebrate the season, Durham residents are urged to avoid all non-essential travel to other regions—stay local and avoid large crowds. As of Monday, November 23, 2020 Durham Region is in the Red – Control Category for COVID-19 restrictions. Before you visit any of the events below, please check online to ensure they are still being held.

Port Perry

Each year, the Scugog Chamber of Commerce holds its annual Candlelight Walk and Christmas Extravaganza. Carols are sung, hot chocolate and cookies are enjoyed amongst friends, and flickering candles light a procession of happy citizens as they make their way to the tree-lighting ceremony—a staple of any good small town Christmas.

This year, both of these events were unfortunately cancelled to avoid drawing large crowds. In their place, however, the Port Perry BIA is bringing an uplifting boost of holiday cheer to the downtown core by expanding its Christmas light program. Funds that were initially earmarked for other celebrations will be redirected to cover all of the buildings of Downtown Port Perry (that’s right: all!), as well as Palmer Park in the centre of town, with beautiful festive lights at no cost to business owners.

It is a small but much-needed gesture when in-person traditions cannot go forward. “We are all trying our best to ensure that everyone is still feeling festive and that the holiday season is still bright and merry, even though we are all staying and shopping local this year,” says Melissa Rada, Marketing and Event Coordinator for the Port Perry BIA.

In addition to the central light display in Port Perry, you can visit Santa Claus virtually and the traditional free carriage rides will still be held, modified to satisfy physical distancing requirements, of course. Traditional carriage rides throughout Port Perry will include plexiglass barriers between riders and driver, with cleaning to occur between rides.


For Christmas 2020, no in-person events will take place in Historic Downtown Bowmanville. Residents who look forward to Christmas Moonlight Magic each year, where the whole family is invited to come out for carols, horse-drawn wagon rides, late-night shopping, and a countdown to the lighting of Bowmanville’s enormous tree in the town square, will have to wait for safer days.

As an alternative, the Bowmanville BIA is putting together a Twelve Days of Giveaways virtual event. “It’s a program on Instagram and Facebook,” says Cathy Holmes, Events Chair for the BIA and owner of downtown’s Scrub’n. “There will be hundred-dollar gift certificates [up to $6,000 in total] that you can have a chance to win to spend at different stores throughout downtown.” 

Even though the grand, traditional, in-person events can’t be held this year, the BIA still wants people to come out, shop, and support local stores in their downtown. “We want to encourage people to come here because we’re small,” Cathy explains. “Our stores are practicing the utmost care and protocols with PPE, hand sanitizing, and all the requirements. People can still do in-person shopping, but with a high level of safety.”

Two brightly lit holiday trees in downtown Oshawa.
Image: Oshawa.ca


Oshawa’s beloved tradition of the Bright and Merry Market has not been cancelled this year; however, it is going to look a little different. Traditionally, this event includes holiday shopping, carols, entertainment, food, activities, and indoor and outdoor options—all of which culminate with the Tree Lighting Ceremony. Because of COVID-19, the in-person portions of all downtown events, including the market, have been cancelled. The Bright and Merry Market, however, lives on and has moved into the virtual realm.

“All of the vendors that were at the Bright and Merry Market last year will be highlighted,” explains Angela Mittoni, Special Projects Coordinator for the Downtown Oshawa BIA. “It’s just another way of helping to promote some of the local smaller businesses.”

Residents and anyone interested are encouraged to participate in the online fun. There is a tree-themed craft inspired by the virtual Bright and Merry Market. Also, the City of Oshawa is encouraging everyone to upload their best holiday display photo for a chance to win a prize. We can’t gather in person at the moment, but we can still build community online to preserve our holiday traditions and seasonal spirit.


The Uxbridge Optimist Fantasy of Lights will still hold its 13th annual celebration as well, though it too has been modified. Where this event has previously been a walk-through experience, for 2020, it is now a drive-through.

“There will be no horse-drawn wagon rides or hot chocolate,” they say. “But fear not… the Optimist Club of Uxbridge is committed to making this year’s display more brilliant than ever to make up for it and to brighten your mood this holiday season! We look forward to seeing you there.” 

As we said, these are just a few of the alternative arrangements our downtowns have pulled together to keep the festive spirit alive for our residents and visitors. But they are not the only ones. We encourage you to go online and see what else is going on. Is there something you are particularly excited about? Connect with your downtown on social media and tell us all about it!