A familiar site to those who walk the streets of downtown Toronto is the creche outside Old City Hall. Gethsemene Ministries sets up the creche each year. Photo by Michael Swan

Christmas is alive across the city

  • December 23, 2011

TORONTO - Christmas has not been banished to churches and pious homes. Commercial Christmas may be everywhere — bigger, brighter  and louder than any tale of how Christ came into the world — but the insanely jovial Santas and blizzard of inane holiday songs on the radio are not the end of the story.

There are Christmas creches in businesses, out on the street, in offices, in all kinds of places around the city.

At Casa Manila in North York the only thing owners Rizalde and Mila Cuachon need to evoke the birth of Jesus is a star — or a couple dozen stars — hanging from the ceiling of their restaurant. The traditional Filipino parol is a lantern made from bamboo and Japanese paper. It evokes the star that led magi to Bethlehem. The Cuachons’ collection of parols joyously declare, “Christ is here.”


At the Gardiner Museum of ceramic art (above) Toronto designers are challenged each year to design and decorate the most splendid Christmas trees in the city. Ralph and Jonathan Neal of Upper Canada House Ltd. used their tree to focus on the camels who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Holy Family.

“Our tradition of giving Christmas gifts did not start on the backs of reindeer, but on the back of the lowly camel,” the designers wrote to explain their tree decorated as a creche. “The often depicted steed of the ‘Wise Men’ of the East, the camel delivered the first gifts of Christmas.”

There are Christmas creches everywhere in Toronto’s Maltese community, but none more visited or more deeply appreciated than the one at the Malta Bakery, a few doors down Dundas Street from St. Paul the Apostle Church.

Charles and Antoinette Buttigieg reconstruct their presepju, as the Christmas crib is known in Maltese, every year. When Christmas is done, they donate everything but the figurines to the Pauline Sisters.


The Malta Bakery presepju (pictured above) occupies what Charles Buttigieg calls the “holy corner,” where patrons can appreciate it while enjoying a cappuccino and a pastizzi. The Christmas crib, full of Maltese touches from an appearance of St. George Preca to zaqq and tambourine-playing musicians, brings the community together, said Buttigieg.

“We love it because it’s a community,” he said.

Toronto’s right-to-life community puts the creche at the centre of the city with the Gethsemene Ministries creche in front of Old City Hall, only steps away from the Eaton Centre, the downtown Hudson’s Bay store and City Hall. Last year’s incident that saw the plexiglass windows broken hasn’t discouraged the group.

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