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 2014.

For holiday feasts, see Indulging at the holidays.

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

Fourth weekend in November

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. 20–23.

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. 20–23.

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. 20.

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. On Sunday, there's a folk art fair. Nov. 21–23.

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. 21–Dec. 24.

Holiday Folk Fair International in West Allis, WI Dozens of ethnic groups are represented with music, dance, food and crafts, plus a Revolutionary War encampment and a 5K run and walk. At the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center. Nov. 21–23.

Christmas City of the North Parade in Duluth, MN There will be marching bands, floats and Santa, starting on Canal Park at 6:20 p.m. Nov. 21.

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. 21–23.

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. 21–23.

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. 21.

Fine Arts and Crafts Fair in Menomonie, WI Thirty artisans will 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. 22.

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. 22.

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. 22.

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. 22.

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 to donate. Nov. 22–Dec. 27.

Holiday Parade in Green Bay, WI The parade starts at 10 a.m. downtown. Nov. 22.

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. 25.

Last 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. 21–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 to donate. Nov. 22–Dec. 27.

Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago, IL It's the 81st anniversary of the parade down State Street in the Loop. 8-11 a.m. Nov. 27.

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. 28.

Christkindlmarkt and Parade in New Ulm, MN A indoor German-style market will include with music, reindeer, trolley rides, a puppet theater, carolers, life-size toy soldiers and appearances by German folklore characters. The Parade of Lights starts at 6 p.m. Friday.   Nov. 28–29.

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. 28–30.

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. 28.

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. 28–29.

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. 28–29.

Festival of Lights Parade in Crystal Lake, IL The parade starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall. Nov. 28.

Holidazzle Village in Minneapolis, MN A holiday village featuring the open-air, German-style Minneapolis Holiday Market is replacing the beloved lighted parade on Nicollet Mall around Peavey Plaza. The market is open daily and the village on weekends, with entertainment that includes fireworks, glass-blowing demonstrations, music and ice-skating. Nov. 28–Dec. 24.

Holiday Stroll in Red Wing, MN This Mississippi River town offers horse-drawn carriage rides, roasted chestnuts, prize give-aways, carolers and live penguins and reindeer. There's a lighted parade at 7 p.m. Nov. 28.

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. 28–29.

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. 29.

First full 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. 21–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 to donate. Nov. 22–Dec. 27.

Holidazzle Village in Minneapolis, MN A holiday village featuring the open-air, German-style Minneapolis Holiday Market is replacing the beloved lighted parade on Nicollet Mall around Peavey Plaza. The market is open daily and the village on weekends, with entertainment that includes fireworks, glass-blowing demonstrations, music and ice-skating. Nov. 28–Dec. 24.

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 6:15 p.m. fireworks, carriage rides, carolers, reindeer, street entertainers and a cookie sale. Dec. 5–6.

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. 5–7.

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. 5–7.

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. 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. 5–6.

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. 5–7.

Sinterklaas Eve in Holland, MI In this Dutch town, St. Nicholas arrives on his white horse, surrounded by his Zwarte Piet helpers. On an Up On the Rooftops tour, visit homes and businesses on the upper floors of historic downtown buildings, then go to a dessert reception. Dec. 5.

Holiday shopping fairs in Cedarburg, WI It's a big weekend in this historic village just north of Milwaukee, with the Christmas in the Country arts and crafts show at Cedar Creek Settlement and Holiday Art Fair at the Cedarburg Community Center. Dec. 5–7.

Country Christmas in Spring Green, WI There's a holiday craft fair, quilt show, horse-drawn carriage rides, cookie walk and fireworks. At House on the Rock, there's a special Christmas exhibition. Dec. 5–6.

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. 6.

Cambridge Country Christmas in Cambridge, WI Celebrate the season with a cookie walk, wagon rides, madrigal singers and a live Nativity scene. Dec. 6–7.

Twinkle Parade in Stillwater, MN Festivities start at 4 p.m., with twinkle lights given to children. There will also be a tree-lighting ceremony, carolers and fireworks. Dec. 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. 6.

Stockholm Country Christmas in Stockholm, WI This bluff-side village on Lake Pepin celebrates with sleigh rides, wassail, Santa and a visit from St. Lucia. Dec. 6.

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. 6–7.

Mrs. Claus at Bentleyville.

© Beth Gauper

Mrs. Claus dispenses holiday wisdom at Bentleyville in Duluth.

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. 21–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 to donate. Nov. 22–Dec. 27.

Holidazzle Village in Minneapolis, MN A holiday village featuring the open-air, German-style Minneapolis Holiday Market is replacing the beloved lighted parade on Nicollet Mall around Peavey Plaza. The market is open daily and the village on weekends, with entertainment that includes fireworks, glass-blowing demonstrations, music and ice-skating. Nov. 28–Dec. 24.

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. 12–14.

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. 12.

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. 13.

Santa's Arrival in Bayfield, WI In this town on Lake Superior, Santa arrives on the Madeline Island ferry with Mrs. Claus, and kids get a goody bag. Dec. 13.

Night of the Luminaria in Galena, IL More than 5,000 candle-lit luminaria line the streets of this historic town. Dec. 13.

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. 13–14.

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. 21–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 to donate. Nov. 22–Dec. 27.

Holidazzle Village in Minneapolis, MN A holiday village featuring the open-air, German-style Minneapolis Holiday Market is replacing the beloved lighted parade on Nicollet Mall around Peavey Plaza. The market is open daily and the village on weekends, with entertainment that includes fireworks, glass-blowing demonstrations, music and ice-skating. Nov. 28–Dec. 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. 19.

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. 20.

A kiosk at Christkindlmarket.

© Beth Gauper

Chicago's Christkindlmarket draws crowds to Daley Plaza.

Fourth weekend in December/New Year's

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 to donate. Nov. 22–Dec. 27.

Carp Fest in Prairie du Chien, WI Help build carp snow sculptures and a giant arts-and-crafts carp, take a whack at a carp pinata, go on a hot-air balloon ride and ski or hike by torchlight in LaRiviere Park. The festival culminates with a laser and pyrotechnics show and the Droppin' of the Carp, a large, frozen Mississippi River rough fish, on New Year's Eve. Dec. 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 midnight. 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.

Cool Fool Kite Festival in Milwaukee, WI In addition to kite-flying, there will be ice sculptures and free hot chocolate, coffee and snacks in the lakefront Veterans Park. Jan. 1.

Frosty Fest in Egg Harbor, WI There's live music, snow sculptures, a fun run and a parade that starts at 1 p.m. Jan. 1.







Last updated on November 21, 2014

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter

Get our weekly stories, tips and updates delivered a day early — directly to your Inbox. Wondering what you'll get? Take a look at our newsletter archive.

* indicates required