Last updated on March 26th, 2019 at 06:14 am

Kensington Market knows how to party. Despite the sub-zero temperatures of late December, market residents and visitors alike gather to celebrate the longest night of the year in style at the Kensington Market Winter Solstice in Toronto.

This date traditionally marked the beginning of the famine months when many would starve to death, which meant the solstice was the last feast celebration before spring. The date has also held spiritual, astronomical and mythological significance and is thought to have been celebrated as far back as the Neolithic age.

The event actually starts a few days before the solstice as the arts group Red Pepper Spectacle Arts hosts a pay-what-you-can lantern-making event, offering materials and instruction for people to make paper lanterns so they can do their part to light up the night. The event was previously called the “Festival of Lights” for this emphasis on parading with lanterns.

On the evening of the solstice, the crowd gathers at the corner of Oxford and Augusta (just south of College Street and west of Spadina Avenue), with lanterns in hand or not. Looking at the lanterns is a big part of the fun. They come in all shapes and sizes and are limited only by the imaginations of the many creative paraders who created them.

In true market style, the event is a full-on sensory delight. With hundreds of lanterns adding a warm glow, costumed actors providing a show and marching bands and random musicians laying down an eclectic soundtrack, the parade saunters through the narrow streets of quirky little Kensington market. At random locations along the parade route impromptu acts happen along the street or on the rooftops of the many colourful homes. The parade comes to a close with a massive bonfire featuring more music and acting before paraders head home or to one of the local establishments to continue their own celebration of the night.

With Canada’s concentration of festivals in the warm summer months, winter events like this are rare. And with winter being such a sedentary time, the Kensington Market Winter Solstice offers a fantastic opportunity to get outside, pump the blood through some underused muscles and celebrate a fun night with a community that loves to party.

Visit Red Pepper Spectacle Arts’ website for event updates.

image: Paul Henman (Creative Commons BY-SA)

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