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 2016.

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

Third weekend in November

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. 17–20.

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. 17.

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. 18.

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. 18–20.

Holiday Folk Fair International in West Allis, WI More than 50 ethnic groups are represented with music, dance, food and crafts, plus an Around the World in 5K run and walk. At the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center. Nov. 18–20.

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. 18–20.

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. 18–20.

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. 18–20.

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. 18–Dec. 24.

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. 19.

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. 19.

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. 19.

Winter Art Fair Off the Square in Madison, WI Art Fair Off the Square presents its winter edition in Monona Terrace, with 140 fine artists from around Wisconsin. Nov. 19–20.

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. 19–Dec. 25.

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. 18–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. 19–Dec. 25.

Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago, IL It's the 83rd anniversary of the parade down State Street in the Loop. Nov. 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. Nov. 25.

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. 25–26.

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. 25–27.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis, MN The third year of a downtown holiday village will be in Loring Park and feature free admission, with entertainment that includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts.     Nov. 25–27.

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. 18–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. 19–Dec. 25.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis, MN The third year of a downtown holiday village will be in Loring Park and feature free admission, with entertainment that includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts.     Dec. 1–4.

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. 2.

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. 2–3.

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. 2–4.

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. 2–4.

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. 3.

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. 3.

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. 18–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. 19–Dec. 25.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis, MN The third year of a downtown holiday village will be in Loring Park and feature free admission, with entertainment that includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts.     Dec. 8–11.

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. 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. 18–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. 19–Dec. 25.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis, MN The third year of a downtown holiday village will be in Loring Park and feature free admission, with entertainment that includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts.     Dec. 15–18.

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. 16.

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. 16–18.

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. 18–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. 19–Dec. 25.

Holidazzle in Minneapolis, MN The third year of a downtown holiday village will be in Loring Park and feature free admission, with entertainment that includes ice-skating, holiday movies and band and choir concerts.     Dec. 22–23.

Carp Fest in Prairie du Chien, WI In this Mississippi River town, go ice fishing (equipment provided), take a snowmobile ride or go sledding, skiing or hiking by torchlight in La Riviere Park. On New Year's Eve, there will be snowmobile rides, fireworks, carp sampling, a bonfire and the Droppin' of the Carp, a large, frozen Mississippi River rough fish.   Dec. 26–31.

New Year's weekend

Carp Fest in Prairie du Chien, WI In this Mississippi River town, go ice fishing (equipment provided), take a snowmobile ride or go sledding, skiing or hiking by torchlight in La Riviere Park. On New Year's Eve, there will be snowmobile rides, fireworks, carp sampling, a bonfire and the Droppin' of the Carp, a large, frozen Mississippi River rough fish.   Dec. 26–31.

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 March 7, 2016

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