MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest


Chicago at Christmas

During the holidays, this glittering, festive town becomes the City of Broad Smiles.

Visiting Chicago during the holidays, I'm always bowled over by how merry everyone is.

Can it be . . . Chicago Nice? It's either that or pixie dust.

Chicago is an exciting place to be any time, but at Christmas, it pulls out the stops. The Magnificent Mile sparkles. Ice skaters do pirouettes in Millennium Park. There are free concerts everywhere.

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A jolly holiday in Minneapolis

Christmas draws tourists and locals alike into the lively heart of the city.

During the holidays, there's no place like home. In fact, it's the perfect getaway.

Every year, I go to downtown for the festivities. I go to a holiday show at the Dakota nightclub and Handel's "Messiah" at Orchestra Hall. I stop by the Holidazzle holiday village in Loring Park.

I don't stay overnight. I live here, after all.

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Great holiday festivals

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

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 2021.

Before you go, check times and details.

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Old World Christmas markets

Local versions of the traditional German Christkindlmarkt are a hit during the holidays.

For 500 years, Germans have done their holiday shopping at open-air Christmas markets in town squares.

Named for the Christ child, the markets traditionally start on the first Sunday of Advent, with shoppers warming up with hot spiced wine while browsing at garland-draped timber kiosks.

It's a tradition worth importing, and that's what Chicago did in 1996 with its Christkindlmarket, where two-thirds of the vendors come from Germany.

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In search of Christmas past

At Old World Wisconsin, pioneers party like itís 1899.

Once, every child in America celebrated Christmas without battery-operated toys.

Instead, they played flap jacks and dominos. They made paper ornaments for the tree. They got an orange brought all the way from Florida.

That’s still what kids do during Christmas time at Old World Wisconsin, where it’s always the 19th century. Danish, Norwegian, German, Polish, Finnish and Yankee families toil there, trying to get ahead on the American frontier.

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Milwaukee at Christmas

During the holidays, this city shimmers like Cinderella.

No one ever accused Milwaukee of being flashy.

Best known for tractors, motorcycles and beer, it’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of town, stolid and practical like the Germans who built it.

It’s not what you’d call a trendy destination. And yet every time I go there, I have a great time.

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Old World Christmas at the Osthoff

On the shores of Elkhart Lake, a luxury resort imports a slice of Germany.

No one knows how to celebrate Christmas like the Germans.

It's thanks to them that Americans decorate Christmas trees, hang wreaths and put nutcrackers on mantels. Because of them, we bake gingerbread men, open Advent calendars and fill stockings with treats.

Still, not every German Christmas tradition has crossed the Atlantic.

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Homes for the holidays

For Christmas tours, historic mansions up the ante on opulence.

Two centuries ago, Minnesota and Wisconsin were ripe for the picking.

Iron ore lay under forests of tall white pine, fertile farmland lay under prairie grasses, and rivers teeming with beaver led to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

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10 great ways to celebrate the Fourth of July

You'll find parades, powwows, picnics, patriotic music and, always, fireworks.

Over the Fourth of July holiday, every town worth its salt holds a celebration.

There are band concerts, parades with antique cars and cute kids dressed in red, white and blue: It's all good.

But it's an especially good time to travel along the border of the United States and Canada, which celebrates Canada Day on July 1. 

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Toasting St. Pat

Parties will be low-key, but the day's festive spirit remains.

Why do we love St. Patrick? Because when the landscape still is icy and white, he makes everything else turn green — clothes, beer, even rivers.

For that, the legendary Irish priest deserves sainthood.

Here are some good ways to celebrate his day. Even though the big parades are canceled this year, many towns are holding lower-key events. And if you want to celebrate later, four Irish inns are green year-round.

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Great ways to celebrate Valentine's Day

Feed romance in the forest, at an ice castle and, of course, in chocolate shops.

Valentine's Day is on a Sunday this year, so at the end of the work week, you ought to be ready to treat your swain or sweetheart to something fun.

It doesn't have to be an expensive dinner by candlelight with a fancy box of artisan chocolates . . . it could also be a hike by lantern or candlelight, with s'mores made over a fire. 

Romance isn't what you buy; it's what you bring with you.

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10 great ways to celebrate New Year's

You can put on a party hat or be festive in the forest.

If you want a good way to greet the new year, plan a great getaway.

The traditional plan is to look around for a party or show. Pretty much any big hotel will have a New Year’s celebration with party hats, loud music and cocktails.

But you also can hike by candlelight, ride an indoor Ferris wheel or watch a torchlight parade on a ski slope.

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The gift of fun

Here are 10 presents that travelers can enjoy all year long.

It’s easy to give people more of the nice stuff they already have: sweaters, compact discs, fancy soaps.

But how about giving them a good time, instead? Memories, we’ve found, last much longer than material goods.

This season might be a good time to open some doors for family and friends by bestowing passes, kits, experiences and other gifts they can use year-round.

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