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 2018.

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

Third weekend in November

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. 15.

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. 16.

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. 16–17.

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. 16–18.

Holiday Folk Fair International in West Allis, WI More than 50 ethnic groups are represented with music, dance, food and crafts. At the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center. Nov. 16–18.

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. 16–18.

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. 16–18.

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, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 16–Dec. 24.

Holiday Parade in Milwaukee, WI It'll have floats, giant helium balloon figures, 20 bands and a live Nativity scene with animals. It starts at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 17.

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. 17.

Pangea in Moorhead, MN Celebrate global cultures at the Hjemkomst Center, with folk dancing, storytelling, music and foods from seven countries. Children can pick up a passport to get stamped at booths. Nov. 17.

Art & Gift 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. 17–18.

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. 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–Dec. 26.

Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade in 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. 20.

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, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 16–Dec. 24.

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. 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–Dec. 26.

Thanksgiving Parade in 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.

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. 22–Jan. 1.

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. 23.

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. 23.

Christkindlmarkt in 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 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. 23–24.

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. 23–25.

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. 23–25.

Christkindlmarket in 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. Nov. 23–25.

Mrs. Claus at Bentleyville.

© Beth Gauper

Mrs. Claus dispenses holiday wisdom at Bentleyville in Duluth.

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, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 16–Dec. 24.

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. 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–Dec. 26.

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. 22–Jan. 1.

Christkindlmarket in 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. Nov. 29–Dec. 2.

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. 30.

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. Nov. 30–Dec. 1.

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. Nov. 30–Dec. 2.

Cambridge Classic Christmas in Cambridge, WI Celebrate the season with hay rides, gingerbread-house building, a fat-tire bike ride and madrigal singers. Nov. 30–Dec. 2.

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. 1.

Sinterklaas Parade 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 meet-and-greet at Scholte Church. Dec. 1.

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. 1.

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, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 16–Dec. 24.

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. 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–Dec. 26.

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. 22–Jan. 1.

Christkindlmarket in 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. 6–9.

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. 7.

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. 7–8.

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. 7–9.

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, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 16–Dec. 24.

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. 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–Dec. 26.

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. 22–Jan. 1.

Christkindlmarket in 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. 13–24.

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. 14.

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, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. In Daley Plaza in the Loop. Nov. 16–Dec. 24.

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. 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–Dec. 26.

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. 22–Jan. 1.

Christkindlmarket in 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. 13–24.

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. 21.

New Year's weekend

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. 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–Dec. 26.

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. 22–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.

Carp Fest in Prairie du Chien, WI In this Mississippi River town, celebrate with fireworks, music, a light show, a bonfire and the Droppin' of the Carp, a large, frozen Mississippi River rough fish.   Dec. 31.

New Year's Eve Ball Drop in Ludington, MI The party in this Lake Michigan beach town includes music, dancing, a beer tent, a lighted ball drop and fireworks. Dec. 31.


Last updated on March 21, 2018