It all starts in early December and the sun goes down, not to rise above the horizon for the next month or so. That’s when the Christmas lights come up in full force, a warm glow emanating from each carefully decorated home, providing a festive substitute for the waning daylight. The Western Arctic region of the Northwest Territories is a magical place in Santa’s backyard. It’s a winter wonderland, home to the only reindeer herd in all of Canada. (Although, there’s no word on whether a red-nosed reindeer lives among this historic herd of 3,000.) It’s a land where people love getting together to celebrate the holidays with feasts, family and fun – even if, in some of its more northerly communities, you have to travel hundreds of kilometres to cut down a Christmas tree.
Photo Credit: Adam Hill
A few weeks before the big day, there’s a huge Christmas Craft Sale in Inuvik, where artisans from all over the Western Arctic gather to sell their wares. The elves in Santa's workshop are no match for these intricate crafts and stunning works of art. Here, you’ll find Northern-themed stained-glass ornaments and soapstone carvings. Dazzling beaver mitts and beaded moosehide moccasins and mukluks. You can also choose from a great variety of uluit—the traditional Inuit cutting and scraping implement—along with homemade blankets and quilts and a bounty of jams and baked goods.
Photo Credit: Weronica Murray
As Christmas approaches, the daily pace of life slows down as people move throughout the Western Arctic, over ice road crossings that are just now strong enough to support cars and trucks, to spend time with their loved ones in different communities. Families crowd around wood stoves and share food, stories and laughs after spending the days outside together. School gymnasiums and community centres fill with nighttime Christmas games and country food feasts.
The night before Christmas, kids from Sachs Harbour to Fort McPherson rush to bed, after hanging stockings and leaving out cookies and milk, comforted by the knowledge that Santa doesn’t have to travel very far to visit them.
Throughout the holiday season, families will get out on the land at their cabins or camps, with winter having truly, finally arrived. But they’ll return to town on New Year’s Eve for a fireworks celebration. This doesn’t mark the end of festivities, though. Soon there’s another cause worthy of celebration—the sun’s return to the Western Arctic skies after its month (or longer) absence.
In Inuvik, this happens less than a week into the New Year and it’s commemorated with the Sunrise Festival. Local food, dance, music and winter activities, including snow carving and snow yoga, are all part of the spectacle. On the Saturday night, a party on the frozen permafrost continues as residents have a giant bonfire and an put on an incredible firework display. It's a fantastic way to finish off the holiday celebrations in Santa's neighborhood.