MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Holiday festivals 2018


  • (Nov. 10 – Jan 1)Holiday Fantasy in Lights

    Madison, WI

    The free display in Olin Park is open from dusk to dawn.

  • (Nov. 15)Holiday Lights Festival

    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. 16 – 18)Christmas by the Bay

    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. 16 – Dec 24)Christkindlmarket

    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, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop.

  • (Nov. 16 – 17)Fine Arts and Crafts Fair

    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. 16 – 18)Holiday Folk Fair International

    West Allis, WI

    More than 50 ethnic groups are represented with music, dance, food and crafts. At the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center.

  • (Nov. 16 – 17)Christkindlmarkt

    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. 17)Magnificent Mile Lights Festival & Parade

    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. 17)Christmas Light Parade

    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. 17 – Dec 26)Bentleyville Tour of Lights

    Duluth, MN

    Tour the retro-cool lighted decorations in Bayfront Festival Park, including a tree that dances to music, Dinosaurland and Penguin Park. Visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus and enjoy popcorn, roasted marshmallows, cookies and hot chocolate. Everything is free, but bring one or more non-perishable food items (and/or cash) to donate.

  • (Nov. 17)Holiday Parade

    Green Bay, WI

    The parade starts at 10 a.m. downtown, at Jefferson and Stuart streets.

  • (Nov. 17)Holiday Kerstmarkt

    Holland, MI

    This open-air European Christmas Market at the Eighth Street Market Place includes 16 timber booths offering Dutch imports, folk art, hand-knit apparel and other gifts.

    Santa arrives Nov. 27 during the Parade of Lights and Sinterklaas in an evening procession Dec. 7. On Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, there are dog-sled demos.

  • (Nov. 17 – Dec 24)Christkindlmarket Milwaukee

    Milwaukee, WI

    The Chicago Christkindlmarket expands with this open-air, German-style market in the plaza outside Fiserve Forum arena.

  • (Nov. 20)Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade

    Appleton, WI

    Wisconsin's largest night-time Christmas parade starts at 6:30 p.m. at the corner of State Street and College Avenue.

  • (Nov. 22)Thanksgiving Parade

    Chicago, IL

    It's the 85th anniversary of the parade down State Street in the Loop. It starts at 8 a.m. at State and Congress and moves northward toward Randolph.

  • (Nov. 22 – Jan 1)Lakeside Park Holiday Lights

    Fond du Lac, WI

    This free light show on Lake Winnebago includes animated scenes and trees that dance to 20 minutes of music played on 87.9 FM (you can listen on your car radio).

  • (Nov. 23)World-Famous Fish House Parade

    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. 23)Holiday Stroll

    Red Wing, MN

    This Mississippi River town offers horse-drawn carriage rides, reindeer sleigh rides, fire dancing and live penguins. There's a lighted parade at 7:30 p.m., followed by fireworks.

  • (Nov. 23 – 25)Christkindlsmarkt

    Excelsior, MN

    In this Minneapolis suburb on Lake Minnetonka, choirs and bands play for shoppers at a traditional German open-air Christmas market.

  • (Nov. 23 – 24)Christkindlmarkt

    Monroe, WI

    The sale in Turner Hall is small, but this cheese-country capital still has one foot in the Old World. Homemade Swiss baked goods as well as folk arts will be offered.

  • (Nov. 23 – 24)Holly Days

    Egg Harbor, WI

    This Door County village offers horse-drawn wagon rides, a children's elf hunt and mistle dough contest and caroling.

  • (Nov. 23 – 24)Lighting & Electric Parade

    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. 23)Festival of Lights Parade

    Crystal Lake, IL

    In this northwest suburb of Chicago, the holiday parade starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

  • (Nov. 23 – 25)German Christmas Market

    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. 23)Free Park Friday

    Every state park, MN

    Hike off Thanksgiving dinner with free admission to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas on Black Friday.

  • (Nov. 23)Free Day in Michigan State Parks

    All state parks, MI

    Enjoy the outdoors and avoid the shopping frenzy by visiting one of Michigan's 103 state parks and recreation areas, where entry will be free. Parking at trailheads also will be free.

  • (Nov. 30)Christmas in the Ward

    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, and a cookie sale.

  • (Nov. 30 – Dec 2)Prelude to Christmas

    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.

  • (Nov. 30 – Dec 2)A Cedarburg Christmas

    Cedarburg, WI

    Shop at the Holiday Art Fair or Christmas Craft and Gift Sale and visit with Santa at his Workshop. On Friday, there's a Festive Eve at Cedar Creek Settlement and free trolley rides.

  • (Nov. 30 – Dec 2)Cambridge Classic Christmas

    Cambridge, WI

    Celebrate the season with hay rides, gingerbread-house building, a fat-tire bike ride and madrigal singers.

  • (Nov. 30 – Dec 2)European Christmas Market

    St. Paul, MN

    This Christkindlmarkt in Union Depot features choirs, dancers, hot mulled wine, holiday beers, European-inspired food and artisan goods.



  • (Dec. 1)Norwegian Christmas Weekend

    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. 1)Grand Meander

    St. Paul, MN

    On Grand Avenue, lined by small shops and restaurants, there will be carolers, soup tasting, a petting zoo, a juried art fair at Ramsey Junior High and a trolley to get from place to place.

  • (Dec. 1)Sinterklaas Parade

    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 meet-and-greet at Scholte Church.

  • (Dec. 1)Christkindl Festival

    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. 1)Twinkle Party

    Stillwater, MN

    Festivities include cookies, hot drinks and twinkle lights given to children. There will also be a tree-lighting ceremony, free trolley rides, caroling and fireworks.

  • (Dec. 1 – 2)Julebyen

    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.

    You can take the train from Duluth to Knife River and back for $15, $5 for children 3-12. It leaves the Depot at 9:30 a.m. both days. From Knife River, there's also a train to visit a grumpy troll in Troll Canyon, $10 for adults, free for one child 12 and under, $4 for each additional child.

  • (Dec. 1)Old Fashioned Christmas

    Delano, MN

    This small town west of Minneapolis offers an Old World Market with Krampus and St. Nikolaus, a children's train and holiday character hunt, Glühwein, live reindeer, music and a parade at 4:30 p.m.

  • (Dec. 7 – 8)Christmas Walk, House Tour & Steeple Walk

    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. 7 – 9)Dickens of a Christmas

    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. 7)Sinterklaas Eve

    Holland, MI

    In this Dutch town, St. Nicholas arrives on his white horse, surrounded by his Zwarte Piet helpers.

    Join a procession to the Kerstmarkt, then meet Sinterklaas, have treats and listen to carols.

  • (Dec. 7 – 8)Fire & Ice Festival

    Brodhead, WI

    This town between Monroe and Beloit celebrates with horse-drawn carriage rides, fire rings, ice sculptures, an arts-and-crafts show, frozen T-shirt contest and a lighted parade at 7 p.m. Friday.

  • (Dec. 8)Spirit of Christmas Past

    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. 8)Night of the Luminaria

    Galena, IL

    More than 5,000 candle-lit luminaria line the streets of this historic town and 30 windows become animated.

  • (Dec. 13 – 16)Holidazzle

    Minneapolis, MN

    The fifth 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.

    There are fireworks at 7 p.m. the first Friday and the next four Saturdays.



  • (Dec. 13 – 24)Christkindlmarket

    Naperville, IL

    The Chicago Christkindlmarket has a satellite market at the historic Naperville Settlement, with visits from the Christkind, dance performances and a children's lantern parade on Kinder Tag.

  • (Dec. 15 – 16)An Old World Christmas

    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.

  • (Dec. 21)Festive Friday Eves

    Cedarburg, WI

    Five Christmas celebrations, each with a different theme, at Cedar Creek Settlement, a restored 1864 woolen mill in this historic village just north of Milwaukee. Each features live holiday music, crafts, luminaries, wine-tasting and cookies and cider.

  • (Dec. 31)Cherry Ball Drop

    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)Light Up Eau Claire

    Eau Claire, WI

    This New Year's Eve festival downtown features live music, free movies, an ice bar with ice glasses, lantern parades and fireworks.

  • (Dec. 31)New Year's Eve Ball Drop

    Ludington, MI

    The party in this Lake Michigan beach town includes music, dancing, a beer tent, a lighted ball drop and fireworks.