MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Great holiday festivals

In November and December, check out Santa, Scrooge and shopping markets.

Santa arrives at Excelsior's Christkindlsmarkt.

© Beth Gauper

Santa's arrival kicks off the Christkindlmarkt weekend in Excelsior, Minn.

As soon as the leaves have fallen and cold winds start to blow, the holidays get under way. This is the season for craft fairs, theme feasts and Christmas parades.

Here are some of the best holiday festivals in 2015.

For tours of decorated mansions, see Homes for the holidays.

Third weekend in November

Best Christkindlmarket Milwaukee in Milwaukee, WI Mader's Restaurant and Best Place at Historic Pabst Brewery bring this German-style Christmas market to Milwaukee, with storytelling, dancing, cookie-decorating and appearances by Father Christmas. And beer, of course. Nov. 19–22.

Holiday Lights Festival in Milwaukee, WI The season-long lights festival begins with music, tree-lighting and hot chocolate in Red Arrow Park, then moves across the river to Pere Marquette Park for a family fashion show, variety show, fireworks and free tours on the Jingle Bus. Nov. 19.

Christmas by the Bay in Sturgeon Bay, WI Festivities start with a tree lighting Friday night. A parade is 10 a.m. Saturday, and there's free trolley and wagon rides plus visits with Santa and his reindeer. Nov. 20–22.

Christkindlmarket in Chicago, IL This is the most authentic Old World Christmas market, with many German vendors who bring over toys, ornaments and sweets. There's a Children's Lantern Parade Dec. 3, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 20–Dec. 24.

Fine Arts and Crafts Fair in Menomonie, WI Thirty artisans sell their wares at the Mabel Tainter, an 1890 auditorium with an ornate interior decorated for the holidays. Downtown shops hold holiday open houses. Nov. 20–21.

Holiday Folk Fair International in West Allis, WI More than 50 ethnic groups are represented with music, dance, food and crafts, plus an Around the World in 5K run and walk. At the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center. Nov. 20–22.

Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis, MN The expo at the Midwest Mountaineering store on the West Bank includes dozens of speakers and seminars about skiing, sled-dog racing and ice-climbing as well as camping, backpacking and other year-round adventures. Nov. 20–22.

Winterer's Gathering in Grand Marais, MN There's a tent encampment, winter skills seminars, Arctic film festival and chili feed at the North House Folk School. Nov. 20–22.

Holiday Art Fair in Madison, WI This event at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Overture Center features fine art, music, treats and the Rediscovered Art & Treasures Sale. Nov. 20–22.

Christkindlmarkt in Kewaunee, WI This Lake Michigan town holds its Old World Christmas market in Lakehaven Hall, with a craft market, music and German food. On Friday, there's a holiday lights parade at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 20–21.

Holiday Parade in Milwaukee, WI It'll have floats, giant helium balloon figures, 20 bands and a live Nativity scene with animals. 9:30 a.m. Nov. 21.

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival & Parade in Chicago, IL There will be music and family activities all day on Michigan Avenue, with a lighted parade from Oak Street to Wacker Drive, where fireworks over the Chicago River will follow. Nov. 21.

Christmas Light Parade in Baraboo, WI The parade includes live reindeer, horses, marching bands and floats. See Santa at the Al Ringling Theatre afterward for photos and treats. Nov. 21.

Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade in Appleton, WI Wiscosnin's largest night-time Christmas parade starts at 6:30 p.m. at the corner of State Street and College Avenue. Nov. 24.

Fourth weekend in November

Christkindlmarket in Chicago, IL This is the most authentic Old World Christmas market, with many German vendors who bring over toys, ornaments and sweets. There's a Children's Lantern Parade Dec. 3, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 20–Dec. 24.

Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago, IL It's the 82nd anniversary of the parade down State Street in the Loop. Nov. 26.

World-Famous Fish House Parade in Aitkin, MN The goofier the float, the better in this north-woods town, 12 miles from the north shore of Mille Lacs. There's music, food and a craft sale before and after the 1 p.m. parade. Nov. 27.

Holiday Stroll in Red Wing, MN This Mississippi River town offers horse-drawn carriage rides, reindeer sleigh rides, caroling and live penguins and baby reindeer. There's a lighted parade at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27.

Christkindlsmarkt in Excelsior, MN In this Minneapolis suburb on Lake Minnetonka, choirs and bands play for shoppers at a traditional German open-air Christmas market. Nov. 27–29.

Holly Days in Egg Harbor, WI This Door County village offers horse-drawn wagon rides, a children's elf hunt and mistle dough contest and caroling. Nov. 27–28.

Lighting & Electric Parade in St. Charles, IL There's Lighting of the Lights and music Friday and free horse-drawn sleigh rides, movies and Santa visits Saturday, with the Electric Christmas Parade at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 27–28.

Festival of Lights Parade in Crystal Lake, IL The parade starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall. Nov. 27.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis, MN The second year of a downtown holiday village will be in Loring Park and feature free admission, with entertainment that includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts. On Nov. 27, the ceremonial opening includes a performance by the Minnesota Chorale and fireworks.   Nov. 27–29.

German Christmas Market in Oconomowoc, WI This downtown market features vendors in outdoor huts as well as tents for music, German food, gingerbread-decorating and a beer garden. Nov. 27–29.

Christkindlmarkt in Monroe, WI The sale in Turner Hall is small, but this cheese-country capital still has one foot in the Old World. Father Christmas will appear, and homemade Swiss baked goods as well as folk arts will be offered. Nov. 27–28.

Sinterklaas Day in Pella, IA In this Dutch town, the man in the red suit arrives in a wooden ship, wears a bishop's miter and has a Moorish servant as helper. A 10 a.m. parade is followed by a party at the Opera House. Nov. 28.

Country Christmas in Spring Green, WI There's a Holiday Tour of Homes, bake sales, a German Christmas market, horse-drawn wagon rides and fireworks. At House on the Rock, there's a special Christmas exhibition. Nov. 28–29.

A nutcracker in a holiday parade in Madison.

© Beth Gauper

Dozens of cities hold holiday parades with floats, helium balloons and marching bands.

First weekend of December

Christkindlmarket in Chicago, IL This is the most authentic Old World Christmas market, with many German vendors who bring over toys, ornaments and sweets. There's a Children's Lantern Parade Dec. 3, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 20–Dec. 24.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis, MN The second year of a downtown holiday village will be in Loring Park and feature free admission, with entertainment that includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts. On Nov. 27, the ceremonial opening includes a performance by the Minnesota Chorale and fireworks.   Dec. 3–6.

Christmas in the Ward in Milwaukee, WI Festivities in the rejuvenated Third Ward near downtown start with tree lighting and a performance by Trinity Irish Dancers, followed by  fireworks, carriage rides, carolers, reindeer, street entertainers and a cookie sale. Dec. 4–5.

Prelude to Christmas in Amana, IA In this formerly communal village in eastern Iowa, visit the decorated Tannenbaum Forest, go on a cookie walk, buy at the craft bazaar, get free admission to the Amana Heritage Museum, visit reindeer and go on the Christmas Haus Tour. Dec. 4–6.

Christmas Walk, House Tour & Steeple Walk in Geneva, IL In this northwest Illinois town, Santa Lucia arrives in a horse-drawn carriage on Friday and hands out Swedish cookies, then Santa lights the Great Tree and opens his Gingerbread House. There's shopping amid strolling carolers. A tour of five houses is Friday and Saturday, and a Steeple Walk of churches is on Sunday. Dec. 4–5.

Christkindl Festival in Black River Falls, WI A candlelight procession and tree lighting start this traditional German market fair. There's also live reindeer, a baby camel, horse-drawn wagon rides, music and a Christkindl Night of Lights Parade. Dec. 4–5.

Dickens of a Christmas in Ripon, WI This Victorian-themed festival includes Living Windows in downtown shops Friday evening, a Tour of Homes Saturday, wagon rides, an Enchanted Forest of decorated trees and a gingerbread-house contest. Dec. 4–6.

Sinterklaas Arrives in Holland, MI In this Dutch town, St. Nicholas arrives on his white horse, surrounded by his Zwarte Piet helpers. Join a procession to Centennial Park, then meet Sinterklaas and have treats at the Holland Museum. Dec. 4.

European Christmas Market in St. Paul, MN The second year of this downtown Christkindlmarkt moves to Union Depot and features hot mulled wine, holiday beers, European-inspired food and artisan goods. Dec. 4–6.

Grand Meander in St. Paul, MN On Grand Avenue, lined by small shops and restaurants, there will be carolers, reindeer, free fire-truck rides for kids, soup tasting, free samples and treats, a juried art fair at Ramsey Junior High and a trolley to get from place to place. Dec. 5.

Stockholm Country Christmas in Stockholm, WI This bluff-side village on Lake Pepin celebrates a Swedish Christmas with a Yule Goat, Santa Lucia, a gnome scavenger hunt and horse-drawn carriage rides. Dec. 5.

Folkways of the Holidays in Shakopee, MN The Landing, an 88-acre living-history museum along the Minnesota River, hosts three weekends of horse-drawn trolley rides, tours of 19th-century homes given by costumed interpreters and concerts by folk musicians and ethnic dancers. On Dec. 19, there's a Village Christmas Pageant, with Santa Claus and live reindeer. Dec. 5–6.

Cambridge Country Christmas in Cambridge, WI Celebrate the season with a cookie walk, wagon rides, madrigal singers and a live Nativity scene. Dec. 5–6.

Twinkle Parade in Stillwater, MN Festivities start at 4 p.m., with cookies, hot drinks and twinkle lights given to children. There will also be a tree-lighting ceremony, caroling and fireworks. Dec. 5.

Julebyen in Knife River, MN This Norwegian Christmas market on Lake Superior, between Duluth and Two Harbors, features indoor and outdoor markets, music, children's activities, skating, Norwegian food and visits from Santa and elves. On Saturday, take the train from Duluth to Knife River and back for $10, $5 for children 3-12. Dec. 5–6.

Norwegian Christmas Weekend in Decorah, IA In the northeast Iowa bluffs, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum will have Scandinavian food, theater, music, folk-art demonstrations, singing around the Jule tree and appearances by Julenisse and Julebukker. Dec. 5.

An Old World Christmas in Eagle, WI At this fun event at Old World Wisconsin, a complex of pioneer homesteads next to Kettle Moraine State Forest west of Milwaukee, you'll meet Father Christmas, stroll from historic houses to shops, sample ethnic foods and make old-fashioned crafts. Reserve early for the Old World Holiday Breakfast. Dec. 5–6.

Second weekend of December

Christkindlmarket in Chicago, IL This is the most authentic Old World Christmas market, with many German vendors who bring over toys, ornaments and sweets. There's a Children's Lantern Parade Dec. 3, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 20–Dec. 24.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis, MN The second year of a downtown holiday village will be in Loring Park and feature free admission, with entertainment that includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts. On Nov. 27, the ceremonial opening includes a performance by the Minnesota Chorale and fireworks.   Dec. 10–13.

European Christmas Market in St. Paul, MN The second year of this downtown Christkindlmarkt moves to Union Depot and features hot mulled wine, holiday beers, European-inspired food and artisan goods. Dec. 11–13.

A Heritage Hill Christmas in Green Bay, WI At this large complex of frontier buildings, listen to choirs, make orange pomanders, learn 19th-century dances, visit with St. Nick and go on a horse-drawn wagon ride. Dec. 12.

Folkways of the Holidays in Shakopee, MN The Landing, an 88-acre living-history museum along the Minnesota River, hosts three weekends of horse-drawn trolley rides, tours of 19th-century homes given by costumed interpreters and concerts by folk musicians and ethnic dancers. On Dec. 19, there's a Village Christmas Pageant, with Santa Claus and live reindeer. Dec. 12–13.

Night of the Luminaria in Galena, IL More than 5,000 candle-lit luminaria line the streets of this historic town. Dec. 12.

An Old World Christmas in Eagle, WI At this fun event at Old World Wisconsin, a complex of pioneer homesteads next to Kettle Moraine State Forest west of Milwaukee, you'll meet Father Christmas, stroll from historic houses to shops, sample ethnic foods and make old-fashioned crafts. Reserve early for the Old World Holiday Breakfast. Dec. 12–13.

A kiosk at Christkindlmarket.

© Beth Gauper

Chicago's Christkindlmarket draws crowds to Daley Plaza.

Third weekend in December

Christkindlmarket in Chicago, IL This is the most authentic Old World Christmas market, with many German vendors who bring over toys, ornaments and sweets. There's a Children's Lantern Parade Dec. 3, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 20–Dec. 24.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis, MN The second year of a downtown holiday village will be in Loring Park and feature free admission, with entertainment that includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts. On Nov. 27, the ceremonial opening includes a performance by the Minnesota Chorale and fireworks.   Dec. 17–20.

Ice Festival in Sandstone, MN There are ice-climbing and winter camping clinics, a chili cook-off, door prizes and use of demo gear in Sandstone Ice Park. Dec. 18–20.

A Heritage Hill Christmas in Green Bay, WI At this large complex of frontier buildings, listen to choirs, make orange pomanders, learn 19th-century dances, visit with St. Nick and go on a horse-drawn wagon ride. Dec. 19.

Folkways of the Holidays in Shakopee, MN The Landing, an 88-acre living-history museum along the Minnesota River, hosts three weekends of horse-drawn trolley rides, tours of 19th-century homes given by costumed interpreters and concerts by folk musicians and ethnic dancers. On Dec. 19, there's a Village Christmas Pageant, with Santa Claus and live reindeer. Dec. 19–20.

Christmas weekend

Christkindlmarket in Chicago, IL This is the most authentic Old World Christmas market, with many German vendors who bring over toys, ornaments and sweets. There's a Children's Lantern Parade Dec. 3, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 20–Dec. 24.

Carp Fest in Prairie du Chien, WI On Saturday, go ice fishing (equipment provided), take a snowmobile ride or go sledding, skiing or hiking by torchlight in La Riviere Park. On New Year's Eve, there will be snowmobile rides, fireworks, carp sampling, a bonfire and the Droppin' of the Carp, a large, frozen Mississippi River rough fish.   Dec. 26–31.

New Year's weekend

Carp Fest in Prairie du Chien, WI On Saturday, go ice fishing (equipment provided), take a snowmobile ride or go sledding, skiing or hiking by torchlight in La Riviere Park. On New Year's Eve, there will be snowmobile rides, fireworks, carp sampling, a bonfire and the Droppin' of the Carp, a large, frozen Mississippi River rough fish.   Dec. 26–31.

Cheese Drop in Plymouth, WI For the big Cheese Drop in this eastern Wisconsin town, an 80-pound lighted wedge of cheese is dropped 100 feet at 10 p.m. There will also be free live music and s'mores bar. Dec. 31.

Cherry Ball Drop in Traverse City, MI In this town on Grand Traverse Bay, there's music from 9 p.m., a visit from the Coast Guard and a large illuminated cherry dropping 115 feet at midnight. Dec. 31.

Chi-Town Rising in Chicago, IL For this new celebration, a giant star will rise 36 stories up the side of a hotel tower — because "Chicagoans don't drop the ball.'' There will also be music concerts and fireworks at midnight. It's along the Chicago River between Michigan and Columbus avenues. Dec. 31.

New Year's Day Parade in Egg Harbor, WI Welcome the new year with a 1 p.m. parade. Jan. 1.



Last updated on December 21, 2015

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