Montreal’s first snowfall brought with it the spirit of Christmas, lighting up Dollarama stores in Christmas decor and my tongue in the green and red of Christmas candy (yes, already, and no, I would not like to watch my sugar intake, Aunt Karen).
As someone who has never celebrated Christmas and never been in Montreal over the holidays, I decided that this was my year. I would sit at home, binge-watch horrible Christmas movies, bake gingerbread people, trip over wires while trying to decorate a Christmas tree, and freeze to death in outdoor Christmas markets. I began with the final item on the list and dragged my friends to Le Grand Marché de Noël de Montréal at Quartier des Spectacles.
Walking on Ste. Catherine between Balmoral and Clark, we saw stalls decorated in green and red lights and a huge sign indicating that this was, in fact, the great Christmas market. Hundreds of people were swarming between stalls that displayed goods ranging from warm clothing accessories and unique delicacies to scented candles and handmade woodcrafts. There were also fire pits in the middle, hot drinks, and crepe stands on the side, and an extremely pricey restaurant at the very end.
At the first stall, the vendor was giving out free samples of different kinds of wines, all of which left a tingling maple aftertaste. Intrigued but having sworn off alcohol, I asked my friends to taste-test the Maple Wine for me, and they all endorsed its unique flavour, recommending it to all wine fanatics.
Next, I stopped at a handmade stone and wood jewelry stall, which sold delicate rings, rustic necklaces, and minimalist earrings on display. Kira Confections, wo-manned by Kira herself, has had a stall at Christmas markets for two years running.
“Since the pandemic has slowed down, so has the business,” Kira told The McGill Tribune.
Nevertheless, she still enjoys it and is continuing to sell her work through Etsy.
I was then drawn to a woman selling the cutest sewn gnomes. As it turned out, Nina Ahrendt, the vendor, also works as a project administrator at McGill and took up this unique hobby to help enliven the Christmas spirit.
“I have a hobby of creating and sewing gnomes in all shapes and sizes for Christmas, to make sure the Christmas spirit is present in every home,” Ahrendt said. “I’m Danish and we have a great tradition in Denmark to decorate for Christmas.”
Ahrendt has been setting up stalls at Christmas markets for the last five years and claims that she actually got lucky with COVID-19.
“People couldn’t spend anywhere else [during the pandemic] so they actually spent money at the Christmas markets, but I think there is less money available this year.”
I then spotted a man with the kindest-looking face advertising some interesting confections, and although I was quite tired of walking by now, I knew I had to chat with him. Elias Masmoudi was selling handmade Tunisian sweets, a venture begun by his grandmother in 1972 that has continued with their family name.
“We hand-made sweets and sold them for weddings, and then it got bigger, and we now sell them during Christmas and even other holidays, such as Ramadan. We have stores in France, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia now,” Masmoudi told the Tribune.
Though this was his first time setting up a stall in a Christmas market, Masmoudi has been selling the goodies himself since 2017 and claims the pandemic had helped its success.
“In 2017, we started online and the online business got better with COVID, it didn’t get worse. 2021 was a great year and 2022 is now alright,” Masmoudi said.
I asked if I could purchase a $10 sweet box and, after finding out I was writing for a student newspaper, he said he would add in some extra sweets. By the time I got the box, it was filled to the brim with delicious delicacies, bringing a smile to my face. Masmoudi, along with all the other vendors lining the Ste. Catherine walkway, really are spreading the Christmas cheer.