MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Great holiday festivals

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

Santa's arrival in Excelsior.

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

Last weekend in November

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.

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. 4, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. Nov. 27–Dec. 24.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

First full weekend of December

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.

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. 4, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. Nov. 27–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. 5.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A kiosk at Christkindlmarket.

Beth Gauper

Chicago's Christkindlmarket draws crowds to Daley Plaza.

Second weekend of December

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.

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. 4, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. Nov. 27–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. 12.

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.

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.

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

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.

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. 4, appearances by the Christkind and entertainment most days. Nov. 27–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.

Mrs. Claus at Bentleyville.

Beth Gauper

Mrs. Claus dispenses holiday wisdom at Bentleyville in Duluth.

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.










Last updated on September 16, 2014
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