Jingle Bells! Christmas shows in Montréal

Richard Burnett

This article was updated on November 14, 2018.

No city celebrates Christmas quite like Montréal, which welcomes the holiday season with countless musical concerts by everybody from the city’s two major symphony orchestras to dozens of local choirs. Not to mention Montréal’s yuletide season is not complete without Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal’s famed adaptation of The Nutcracker, as well as the annual Andy Kim Christmas Concert starring rock and pop legends raising money for charity.

Here are some choice 2018 holiday season events in Montréal:

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Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal’s timeless adaptation of The Nutcracker by Quebec choreographer Fernand Nault returns to Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier for its 55th year. This two-act ballet based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale is set to the music of Tchaikovsky and brings together more than 60 dancers and 100 extras, plus the Orchestre des Grands ballets Canadiens de Montréal under the baton of conductor Dina Gilbert. If you have never seen it, this famed production is a must. The Nutcracker runs from December 13 to 30.

The hugely popular and fun annual Andy Kim Christmas 2018 returns to the Corona Theatre on December 15, with proceeds benefitting the Starlight Children’s Foundation. This year, Kim – who was born and raised in Montréal, and whose mega-hits include Rock Me Gently and the iconic Sugar, Sugar for The Archies – welcomes musical guests Ron Sexsmith, Coeur de Pirate, Brad Barr, La Force, Jake Clemons and others. Showtime is 8 pm.

Noël, une tradition en chanson features a superb cast of singers including Québec pop stars Johanne Blouin and Michel Louvain. They perform in Brossard on December 4 and in LaSalle on December 8 during their ten-date Québec tour.

Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright’s Christmas show has been a family tradition since 2005 when Kate and Anna McGarrigle released their classic album The McGarrigle Christmas Hour. Rufus and Martha are back for Rufus et Martha Wainwright, Noel Nights en famille with musical guests Michel Rivard, Ariane Moffatt, Patrick Watson, Elisapie, Safia Nolin, Tire le Coyote and Anna McGarrigle, at MTELUS (formerly Metropolis) on December 21 and 22.

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Montréal’s renowned Orchestre Métropolitain, together with the Chœur Métropolitain conducted by François A. Ouimet and Pierre Tourville, presents the OM’s Singing As One concert at the Maison symphonique de Montréal on December 23, performing Britten’s cantata Rejoice in the Lamb and Dvořák’s Mass in D Major. Then Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin will lead orchestra and choir performing holiday carols.

Bourgie Concert Hall, over at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, boasts some of the best acoustics in the city, and will present several Christmas-themed concerts this holiday season, notably the hugely popular Charlie Brown Christmas concert with the Taurey Butler Trio, which will perform the classic Peanuts soundtrack live (originally scored and recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio in 1965), in two one-hour concerts, December 20 at 6 and 8:30 pm. Singer Bohdanna Novak will perform as a special guest at the 8:30 pm show.

Other Christmas shows at Bourgie Concert Hall include New York Polyphony – Winter Serenade (December 12), Christmas Matinée with soprano Andréanne Brisson-Paquin and Pallade Musica (December 13 at 11 am), It’s Christmas! with singer David Myles (December 13 at 7:30 pm), A French Christmas with Les Violons du Roy (December 14) and The King’s Singers from Cambridge, UK, who will perform festive holiday classics as well as English hymns (December 18).

Montreal’s beloved Lyric Theatre Singers under the direction of Bob Bachelor return to Concordia University’s Loyola Chapel to present four performances of Candlelight Christmas from December 6 to 9. The ensemble’s annual concert of seasonal songs from around the world is one of Montréal’s most popular holiday events. 

The Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal celebrates the holiday season with Les jours de la Semelle (five concerts from December 12 to 15) featuring Maestro Kent Nagano and the OSM joining forces with renowned storyteller Fred Pellerin, weaving an all-new French-language tale for the holidays, and the OSM’s blockbuster Handel’s Messiah (December 18), all at the Maison symphonique.

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The I Musici de Montréal chamber orchestra presents Christmas With Bach at Salle Bourgie on December 22 and 23, featuring a superb quintet of vocal soloists. Opening the concert are two stunning cantatas written by Bach just for Christmas.

If you’re a gospel music fan, do not miss Gospel Celebration starring the city’s famed Montréal Jubilation Gospel Choir. This 36th annual concert will feature holiday favorites and inspiring gospel hymns just in time for Christmas, as well as a special tribute to Aretha Franklin with special guest, award-winning soul and blues singer Dawn Tyler Watson, at Théatre Maisonneuve on December 9.

Speaking of Dawn Tyler Watson, on December 21, the soul and blues singer headlines the Dawn Tyler Watson Christmas Show at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill, which was named one of the best jazz clubs in the world by no less than DownBeat magazine.

The annual ONE18 - Gospel Christmas Celebration will feature 100 singers backed by a live band when the Jireh Gospel Choir and Montréal Gospel Choir directed by Carol Bernard headline Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste on December 8.

The Spice Island Cultural Day Association hosts the Grenadian-style Spice Island Christmas Brunch and Gospel Show “to remind you all of back home on Christmas morning,” at St. Kevin’s Church Hall on December 2.

Jingle bells will ring at the Noël avec les Crooners concert at the Cabaret du Casino de Montréal. The 75-minute matinee concert – featuring Christmas classics popularized by the likes of Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Judy Garland and Andy Williams – runs from November 25 to December 20. Showtime is 1:30 pm but a brunch-show special is also available with doors opening at 11 am. Free parking and coat check.

The family-friendly musical Décembre presented by the Québec Issime troupe and starring Québec’s Prince of Tenors, Marc Hervieux, tells the story of a small town whose characters come alive beneath a Christmas tree. The crowd-pleasing French-language production features some 30 performers and musicians in its 16th year at Théatre Maisonneuve from December 13 to 30.

The Québec Issime troupe also presents Le Petit Noël de Québec Issime, a 50-minute French-language show about the magic of Christmas on the set of Décembre, especially geared for children aged 2 to 6, at Théatre Maisonneuve on December 16 and 23.

The glorious and historic Church of St. Andrew and St.Paul – whose Gothic Revival architecture looks like it comes straight out of Robin Hood – presents its hugely popular Carols by Candlelight concert with the A&P Choir under the direction of Jean-Sébastien Vallée on December 16. The church also hosts its annual benefit concert – featuring the A&P Choir and musicians from the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal performing their Gender-Bending Messiah concert – for the Maison du Parc, one of Montréal’s last hospices for men and women stricken with HIV/AIDS, on November 23.

Also, since 1980, the annual CBC Christmas Sing-in has been held at the Church of St. Andrew & St. Paul, showcasing Christmas carols in spectacular arrangements for choir, organ, brass and percussion, with an audience of over 1,500 singing along. If you can’t get in (free general admission, though tickets must be reserved in advance by November 24), you can also see a free live-to-air broadcast of the concert at nearby Bourgie Concert Hall. The 39th annual CBC Christmas Sing-In will be held on December 9 at 3 pm.

Last but not least, in a tip of the hat to Montréal’s Sin City heritage, here are a few racy shows this holiday season:

Montréal drag star Rita Baga will host the inaugural Les Reines de Noël, a holiday-themed show starring eight popular Québec drag queens with four hot dancers, at the Théatre National on December 5 and 6.

Hey Santa baby! Montréal’s world-renowned Queen of Burlesque Scarlett James presents Scarlett James Grande Burlesque Revue at the Corona Theatre on December 8.

Or enjoy some “holidaze hi jinx” at the Candyass December Cabaret on December 21 at Montréal’s iconic Café Cléopatra, a show bar since 1893 and the last hold-out from Montréal’s fabled Sin City-era red-light district. Cleo’s classic cabaret space is on the second floor, above its first-floor strip joint.

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, blogger

Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.

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