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Festive season in Banff has a new look this year

BANFF – The town of Banff is known for its community Christmas cheer. A slate of events is scheduled every year to help bring people together in celebration of the holiday season.
xmas trail
In Search of Christmas Spirit is new this year and features an outdoor storytelling experience for visitors. The art installation is locally-designed, and the illuminated creations that are central to the roughly 45-minute walking tour were inspired by the animals of Banff National Park. SUBMITTED PHOTO

BANFF – The town of Banff is known for its community Christmas cheer.

A slate of events is scheduled every year to help bring people together in celebration of the holiday season. Things will be looking a little bit different this time around, but the spirit of the season endures.

In Search of Christmas Spirit is new this year and features an outdoor storytelling experience for visitors. The art installation is locally-designed, and the illuminated creations that are central to the roughly 45-minute walking tour were inspired by the animals of Banff National Park.  

Indigenous sculptor and painter Jason Carter was tasked with making the unique sculptures a reality, and Bridget Ryan, art director for the project, helped write the story behind In Search of Christmas Spirit.

Ryan also worked with the Old Trout Puppet Workshop Society to come up with the illuminated puppets that are also part of the story being told. A custom soundscape is also featured in the experience.

“Really, it’s been about two years in the making,” said David Matys, director of events and animation for Banff and Lake Louise Tourism (BLLT).

“We were looking at how we developed programing for Christmas,” Matys said. “Because we had a couple of good anchor pieces for Christmas in the Santa Clause Parade of Lights, in the Christmas Market that took place … but, we just felt like we needed some more compelling pieces within Christmas.”

The internal event team at BLLT began with the question: what does an authentic Christmas in Banff and Lake Louise look like? And, what’s the difference between a mountain Christmas and a Christmas in the city?

After consultation with member businesses to see what they thought, a recurring idea was for a lighting trail of some kind.

“What was important to us is that we found a way to do a Christmas lighting experience that incorporated the animals of the park,” Matys said.

The concept developed slowly, but external circumstances played a part in moving things forward.

“It seemed like a concept we could bring to life this year, because at the time, back in July and August, we were trying to imagine how we were going to execute events in the face of COVID, and we were taking a look at the different properties that we had, and said, ‘what are we most likely to execute?’”

After extended discussions with Alberta Health Services on all planned winter events, the decision was made to focus more closely on things that would help disperse people, rather than bring them together, which helped further shape the original concept of a mountain Christmas.

“The idea that what’s unique here is getting outdoors for Christmas, and being under the stars for Christmas, and being active,” Matys said.

Departures for In Search of Christmas Spirit are every 15-minutes between 5 and 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Dec. 17, 18, 19), and check in is at Banff Avenue Square.

The event is free, but visitor numbers are capped to prevent crowding. The initial batch of reserve tickets sold out quickly. A limited number of additional tickets for this weekend will be made available on Thursday, (Dec. 16) at 10 a.m. Appropriate winter clothing and footwear is recommended.  

Starting on Dec. 24, departures move to daily through until Jan. 2. To accommodate demand while maintaining proper COVID-19 protocols reservations are strongly advised, and the attraction is reserved for locals only for the duration.

Locals in this case are considered to be residents of Banff, Canmore, Kananaskis, Lake Louise, Exshaw, Morley, Harvie Heights and Yoho National Park.

While In Search of Christmas Spirit fits well in the current circumstances, there have also been a number of event cancellations in Banff this year, including Mountaintop Christmas, the Santa Clause Parade of Lights, and the BLLT sponsored Christmas Market.

Visit banfflakelouise.com for updated information on all events.