MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Great holiday festivals

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

Father Christmas at Old World Wisconsin.

© Beth Gauper

A Thomas Nast Santa awaits children at Old World Wisconsin.

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 2020.

This year, many festivals have been canceled or are virtual. However, drive-by light shows will take place as usual, and some holiday parades will be "drive-through.'' 

Some small-town festivals still are taking place, some with limited capacity and required reservations.

Before you go, check times and details.

Third weekend in November

Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Madison, WI The free display in Olin Park is open from dusk to dawn. Nov. 7–Jan. 3.

Holiday Lights Festival in Milwaukee, WI The season-long lights festival includes more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown's parks and streets.   Nov. 19–Jan. 1.

Christmas by the Bay in Sturgeon Bay, WI There's a car parade at 6:15 p.m., led by Santa. Nov. 20.

Festive Friday Eves in 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. Nov. 20.

Virtual Holiday Folk Fair International in West Allis, WI More than 50 ethnic groups present music, dance, food and crafts from around the world. At the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center. This year, it will be online. 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. Presentations are virtual in 2020, given Nov. 6-25. 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. It's mostly virtual in 2020. Nov. 20–22.

Holiday Kerstmarkt in Holland, MI This open-air European Christmas Market at the Eighth Street Market Place includes 18 timber booths offering Dutch imports, folk art, hand-knit apparel and other gifts.   Nov. 21.

Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, MN Tour the retro-cool lighted decorations in Bayfront Festival Park, including a tree that dances to music, Dinosaurland and Penguin Park.  In 2020, it's a drive-through. Admission is $10 per car, and children 10 and younger receive a free Bentleyville stocking cap and cookies from a window-side Santa and Mrs. Claus. Nov. 21–Dec. 27.

ZooLights in Chicago, IL The annual display of 2.5 million lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is operating at 25 percent capacity this year and charging $5 per person. Tickets are available for timed slots between 4 and 9 p.m.; on Nov. 24 and Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29, tickets are free (available at 4 p.m. the previous Sunday). Nov. 21–Jan. 3.

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival & Parade in Chicago, IL This year, there's no live parade, but a celebration will be televised from 6 to 7 p.m. on ABC. Usually, there are music and family activities on Michigan Avenue, with a  lighted parade from Oak Street to Wacker Drive, followed by fireworks over the Chicago River. Nov. 22.

Fourth weekend in November

Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Madison, WI The free display in Olin Park is open from dusk to dawn. Nov. 7–Jan. 3.

Holiday Lights Festival in Milwaukee, WI The season-long lights festival includes more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown's parks and streets.   Nov. 19–Jan. 1.

Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, MN Tour the retro-cool lighted decorations in Bayfront Festival Park, including a tree that dances to music, Dinosaurland and Penguin Park.  In 2020, it's a drive-through. Admission is $10 per car, and children 10 and younger receive a free Bentleyville stocking cap and cookies from a window-side Santa and Mrs. Claus. Nov. 21–Dec. 27.

ZooLights in Chicago, IL The annual display of 2.5 million lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is operating at 25 percent capacity this year and charging $5 per person. Tickets are available for timed slots between 4 and 9 p.m.; on Nov. 24 and Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29, tickets are free (available at 4 p.m. the previous Sunday). Nov. 21–Jan. 3.

Lakeside Park Holiday Lights in 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. 26–Jan. 1.

Holiday Stroll in Red Wing, MN This Mississippi River town offers a window-display scavenger hunt, a drive-through Santa and sales. Nov. 27.

Festive Friday Eves in 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. Nov. 27.

Free Entrance Day to all Minnesota state parks in All state parks, MN Entrance to all 75 Minnesota state parks is free today. Nov. 27.

Parade of Lights in New Ulm, MN The holiday parade downtown will be drive-through and from 6 to 7 p.m. Nov. 27.

Holiday Kerstmarkt in Holland, MI This open-air European Christmas Market at the Eighth Street Market Place includes 18 timber booths offering Dutch imports, folk art, hand-knit apparel and other gifts.   Nov. 27–28.

Holiday Homecoming & Electric Parade in St. Charles, IL There's Lighting of the Lights will be virtual on Friday. On Saturday, there will be a kickoff to the Holiday Tree Trail and a window-decorating contest.  Nov. 28.

Mrs. Claus at Bentleyville.

© Beth Gauper

Mrs. Claus dispenses holiday wisdom at Bentleyville in Duluth.

First weekend of December

Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Madison, WI The free display in Olin Park is open from dusk to dawn. Nov. 7–Jan. 3.

Holiday Lights Festival in Milwaukee, WI The season-long lights festival includes more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown's parks and streets.   Nov. 19–Jan. 1.

Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, MN Tour the retro-cool lighted decorations in Bayfront Festival Park, including a tree that dances to music, Dinosaurland and Penguin Park.  In 2020, it's a drive-through. Admission is $10 per car, and children 10 and younger receive a free Bentleyville stocking cap and cookies from a window-side Santa and Mrs. Claus. Nov. 21–Dec. 27.

ZooLights in Chicago, IL The annual display of 2.5 million lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is operating at 25 percent capacity this year and charging $5 per person. Tickets are available for timed slots between 4 and 9 p.m.; on Nov. 24 and Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29, tickets are free (available at 4 p.m. the previous Sunday). Nov. 21–Jan. 3.

Lakeside Park Holiday Lights in 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. 26–Jan. 1.

Festive Friday Eves in 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. 4.

Holiday Kerstmarkt in Holland, MI This open-air European Christmas Market at the Eighth Street Market Place includes 18 timber booths offering Dutch imports, folk art, hand-knit apparel and other gifts.   Dec. 4–5.

Prelude to Christmas in Amana, IA In this formerly communal village in eastern Iowa, visit the decorated Tannenbaum Forest, buy at the craft bazaar, go on a pickle hunt and listen to Santa stories. Dec. 4–6.

Second weekend of December

Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Madison, WI The free display in Olin Park is open from dusk to dawn. Nov. 7–Jan. 3.

Holiday Lights Festival in Milwaukee, WI The season-long lights festival includes more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown's parks and streets.   Nov. 19–Jan. 1.

Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, MN Tour the retro-cool lighted decorations in Bayfront Festival Park, including a tree that dances to music, Dinosaurland and Penguin Park.  In 2020, it's a drive-through. Admission is $10 per car, and children 10 and younger receive a free Bentleyville stocking cap and cookies from a window-side Santa and Mrs. Claus. Nov. 21–Dec. 27.

ZooLights in Chicago, IL The annual display of 2.5 million lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is operating at 25 percent capacity this year and charging $5 per person. Tickets are available for timed slots between 4 and 9 p.m.; on Nov. 24 and Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29, tickets are free (available at 4 p.m. the previous Sunday). Nov. 21–Jan. 3.

Lakeside Park Holiday Lights in 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. 26–Jan. 1.

Festive Friday Eves in 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. 11.

Holiday Kerstmarkt in Holland, MI This open-air European Christmas Market at the Eighth Street Market Place includes 18 timber booths offering Dutch imports, folk art, hand-knit apparel and other gifts.   Dec. 11–12.

Night of the Luminaria in Galena, IL More than 5,000 candle-lit luminaria line the streets of this historic town and 30 windows become animated. Dec. 12.

Burlington Ice Festival in Burlington, WI Ice carvers compete in Wehmhoff Square Park in the Wisconsin Ice Carving Competition. There will also be horse-drawn wagon rides, live reindeer, visits with Santa and bonfires with s'mores. Dec. 12.

A kiosk at Christkindlmarket.

© Beth Gauper

Chicago's Christkindlmarket draws crowds to Daley Plaza.

Third weekend in December

Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Madison, WI The free display in Olin Park is open from dusk to dawn. Nov. 7–Jan. 3.

Holiday Lights Festival in Milwaukee, WI The season-long lights festival includes more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown's parks and streets.   Nov. 19–Jan. 1.

Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, MN Tour the retro-cool lighted decorations in Bayfront Festival Park, including a tree that dances to music, Dinosaurland and Penguin Park.  In 2020, it's a drive-through. Admission is $10 per car, and children 10 and younger receive a free Bentleyville stocking cap and cookies from a window-side Santa and Mrs. Claus. Nov. 21–Dec. 27.

ZooLights in Chicago, IL The annual display of 2.5 million lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is operating at 25 percent capacity this year and charging $5 per person. Tickets are available for timed slots between 4 and 9 p.m.; on Nov. 24 and Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29, tickets are free (available at 4 p.m. the previous Sunday). Nov. 21–Jan. 3.

Lakeside Park Holiday Lights in 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. 26–Jan. 1.

Festive Friday Eves in 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. 18.

Fourth weekend in December

Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Madison, WI The free display in Olin Park is open from dusk to dawn. Nov. 7–Jan. 3.

Holiday Lights Festival in Milwaukee, WI The season-long lights festival includes more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown's parks and streets.   Nov. 19–Jan. 1.

Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, MN Tour the retro-cool lighted decorations in Bayfront Festival Park, including a tree that dances to music, Dinosaurland and Penguin Park.  In 2020, it's a drive-through. Admission is $10 per car, and children 10 and younger receive a free Bentleyville stocking cap and cookies from a window-side Santa and Mrs. Claus. Nov. 21–Dec. 27.

ZooLights in Chicago, IL The annual display of 2.5 million lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is operating at 25 percent capacity this year and charging $5 per person. Tickets are available for timed slots between 4 and 9 p.m.; on Nov. 24 and Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29, tickets are free (available at 4 p.m. the previous Sunday). Nov. 21–Jan. 3.

Lakeside Park Holiday Lights in 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. 26–Jan. 1.

Santa arrives at Excelsior's Christkindlsmarkt.

© Beth Gauper

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

New Year's Eve and Day

Holiday Fantasy in Lights in Madison, WI The free display in Olin Park is open from dusk to dawn. Nov. 7–Jan. 3.

Holiday Lights Festival in Milwaukee, WI The season-long lights festival includes more than 500,000 lights throughout downtown's parks and streets.   Nov. 19–Jan. 1.

ZooLights in Chicago, IL The annual display of 2.5 million lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is operating at 25 percent capacity this year and charging $5 per person. Tickets are available for timed slots between 4 and 9 p.m.; on Nov. 24 and Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29, tickets are free (available at 4 p.m. the previous Sunday). Nov. 21–Jan. 3.

Lakeside Park Holiday Lights in 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. 26–Jan. 1.

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.


Last updated on November 30, 2020