Timberline Country Christmas: A Beautiful Tradition

Our Christmas festivities have begun! As part of our Christmas Traditions for 2015, we’ve been out and about as a family visiting many cherished and new festive spots. We’ve made a visit to the Aquarium to see Scuba Claus and to the Burnaby Village Museum to complete the scavenger hunt for the 12 Days of Christmas in their Heritage Christmas celebration, and this weekend we drove out to Maple Ridge to visit the Timberline Ranch for the Timberline Country Christmas

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Held at the scenic 73-acre horse ranch, Timberline Country Christmas aims to deliver what we all seek at this time of year: a simple and relaxing Christmas wonderland! Secured through a time-based reservation system, you avoid lines and crowds during most of your stay. You start at your pre-reserved time, but can spend as long as you like on the ranch: visiting the petting zoo, taking a hay ride, playing in the game area, making ornaments, taking a hay ride, listening to stories, or riding a pony (extra ticket required, but still reasonable)! There’s even an assortment of snacks and food available, if you want to extend your stay.

Compared to many Christmas events, this is both reasonably priced as well as more laid back. I felt like we truly enjoyed our two hours at the ranch – no rushing or dealing with impatient kids! We were welcomed with cookie decorating (hooray, no gingerbread! We all get gingerbread-ed out this time of year!), then took the short hay ride to the petting zoo / pony ride / hay maze barn. The whole event is either indoors or covered, so weather isn’t really an issue, but we lucked out with a mild day. Our kids loved interacting with the assortment of animals (goats, llamas, cows and more!), and we were impressed with how immaculate the entire barn was. The highlight, of course, was the pony ride! Both boys had huge smiles on their faces to be riding the large horses!! I was so impressed with them. 

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Every inch of the ranch, including the animal areas, was kept pristine and each person who we interacted with actually seemed to care for their job. Nobody seemed frazzled or annoyed or overwhelmed with their roles interacting with so many people. I was especially impressed in the barn, where I didn’t feel overwhelmed by animal poo!, and in the craft area, where I commended the assistant for keeping all the craft supplies so tidy! I know that can be a daunting task with kids!

Our boys loved the snowball fight area!! We spent a lot of time there and freely let the boys play and play and play. Eventually we coaxed Aiden away by suggesting he set a goal for how many targets he wanted to hit / go through – his final score was 40 hits / hoops!

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Family Christmas Traditions in Vancouver for 2015

Christmas is a very special time of year for me, a time I look forward to all year. Since I shop all year round, I don’t often feel the “madness” side of Christmas. Instead, I focus on creating memories and making people feel special. I do more crafts, I spend hours wrapping presents with special ribbons and decorations, I watch movies, and we do many special outings as a family. There are more than 200 Christmas-related events in Vancouver this year, and that can be overwhelming. I’ll share with you the events we have planned for this year, including the ones we visit every year and some new ideas we plan to try. 

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Timberline Country Christmas

New to our Christmas line-up this year is a visit to the Timberline Ranch for their Country Christmas event, running from December 2-20. This is the second-annual Country Christmas for Timberline Ranch, a horse ranch located in Maple Ridge, and features cookie decorating, a Christmas ornament craft, a wagon ride, an indoor hay maze, a petting zoo, a photobooth, a snowball themed ball pit, Storyland, and even pony rides (for an extra fee). It sounds like a very unique event, so stay tuned for our review in early December! If you do want to attend, reservations are required

The Polar Express

Every year, we trek out to Squamish for the West Coast Railway Heritage Park’s exhibition of The Polar Express. As Aiden’s most favourite movie, this event has always had the most special meaning for us. We must have watched the movie dozens of times and, when it comes to the magic of Christmas, for us it’s all about the Polar Express. The event has evolved over the years and now involves a more elaborate “North Pole” experience, with a visit with Santa, a mini train ride, crafts & cookie decorating and many great displays. 

Bright Nights in Stanley Park

Adding to our train-themed event, we visit Bright Nights in Stanley Park to view the three million light display and ride the train through the ever-changing themed displays. This is often an event that people do in large groups, with extended family or friends, and it’s great that a portion of donations and ticket sales go to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund. This year, a “Grinch” stole a lot of materials from the venue, so we plan to give a larger donation in recognition of our support.

Canyon Lights 

As annual members (one visit pays for itself for BC residents!), we often visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge for their seasonal displays. While lovely for Halloween, the park truly shines at Christmas. Canyon Lights features the world’s tallest living Christmas tree, thousands of lights throughout the park and on the bridge, plus events including live music and cookie decorating. As this event is nestled close to Grouse, be sure to dress extra warm! Holiday activities begin daily at 4pm. 

Park & Tilford Hi-Light Festival

Local to North Vancouver, the Hi-Light Festival at the Park & Tilford Gardens is a favourite for it’s close-knit community feel. We are frequent visitors to the gardens, so that makes the Christmas event so much more special. On Family Friday Nights, there are Santa visits, hot chocolate, live entertainment, face painting and more! This is an annual tradition for us to do with many of our friends.

Christmas Markets

Last year we were frequent visitors to the Shipyards for their Christmas market and events. This year it’s not as frequent, but there is a Christmas Festival on December 5th and the Christmas Market on December 18-20th. Not to be outdone is of course the Vancouver Christmas Market, which we attended for the first time last year. Be prepared that this event is very busy and crowded, so it can be overwhelming for kids. The highlight for us was the carousel!

You may wonder, are we missing out on major events here? And yes, of course we are. The two biggest events we never seem to get to are:

Rogers Santa Clause Parade

Who doesn’t love a parade? Up until now, it’s never seemed reasonable to attend given the age of our kids, and even this year we can’t make it because of a scheduling conflict. Miracle on 34th Street is my favourite holiday movie, so a Christmas parade is a magical idea to me. Hopefully next year we can include it in our plans!

The Peak of Christmas

Top on my wish list is a visit to the Peak of Christmas where you can take a sleigh-ride, go skating, visit Santa and his reindeer and so much more. It sounds like a beautiful Winter wonderland. The age of our kids and their dislike for cold has kept us away so far, but one year! Plus, if you do every major event, it does get costly (and this is a very costly one).

Other holiday ideas we’ve tried are the VanDusen Botanical Garden display, which is beautiful but similar to our local Hi-Light festival, 

Celebrating BC Playthings with Charlotte Diamond

BC Playthings has been an anchor in North Vancouver’s Edgemont Village for the past 38 years. BC Playthings has always had a focus on quality toys for kids, not gimmicks or poor quality toys. The toys have always been the anchor toys that allow for open-ended play with kids. Though the physical store is small, you are always sure to find a gem in store or online. The store recently welcomed new ownership, after flying under the flag of Pat Gallaher for all of these past years.

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Today they celebrated their 38 years with a huge celebration in Edgemont featuring Charlotte Diamond, a children’s performer that I recall with fondness from my own childhood. I’ll need to revisit some of her songs with my own children! We had a great time at the concert and picked up some amazing toys for the kids for Christmas. 

I have been jotting down my wish list of toys and games for the kids all year (I use an app on my phone to jot down gift ideas for all of us – myself included – to simplify shopping for birthdays and holidays) and it was nice to mark others as ‘purchased’! I am so happy to see my list of items purchased growing, even before we hit December. I’m one of those ‘early’ shoppers, but it takes all the stress out of the holidays and lets me just enjoy the time we spend with family. 

Today you can get 10% off your purchases at BC Playthings. If you have items on your list, or are looking for inspiration, you have a couple hours to go shopping today!

If you are looking for gift inspiration, stay tuned for my series of Gift Guides for kids and adults alike!

Saturday Summer Sessions at the Shipyards

Last Saturday kicked off the first of the Saturday Summer Sessions art & music festival at The Shipyards at the foot of Lonsdale. For those of you (like me) who love the outdoor concert scene, but not the time at which most of the concerts take place, this is a great alternative. We got there so early on Saturday, the kids actually got to help test out the drum sets (translation: Damien was in heaven).

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Right now, there are Summer Concert Series taking place all over North Vancouver, most of which are held on Fridays from 7-9pm. The concerts at Cates Park are the exception, but I’ve had too many bad parking experiences there for me to consider this a regular option. 

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The new Summer Sessions concert series runs from 3-10pm, offering children’s art and activities and sometimes music and shows in the earlier hours, with adult-focused concerts starting after 7pm. So, YAY!

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Last week, we sat in for some of the Celtic Ensemble and Irish Dancers as the Summer Sessions kicked off and had a great time. Don’t expect it to be as busy as the Friday Night Market, or have as many booths or food trucks, but come check it out if you’re looking to add some more music to your family lives!

Vancouver International Children’s Festival

We went to our first Children’s Festival on Granville Island this year. In the past, I wasn’t sure I was up for a whole day at Granville Island with 1 or 2 kids, but now my kids are much “easier,” most of the time, and the day is not so tiring for me. We met up with one grandma (Babby) and aunt (Tia) on a Friday around 10am, choosing to use the festival site activities only, no shows, and we managed to stay there until nearly 4pm. 

We made music, we added string to the dinosaur sculpture, Aiden had his face painted at the most well-organized face painting tent ever and made crafts, we played for a long time in the amazing and well-staffed preschool tent, we played at the playground many times, we had lunch and too many sweets, and I even gave Damien a brief nap in the carrier. It was all-in-all a great day, and surprisingly more relaxing than I anticipated!

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I highly recommend a visit next year, particularly on a weekday when it wasn’t as busy. We may even check out a show next year!