8 Delightful Ways to Enjoy the Holiday Season in Milwaukee

Shake up your holiday routine (like a snow globe) this season.

For many, the holidays are a time for tradition. Far-flung family members return home and reunite with relatives they haven’t seen in months, dusting o their grandparents’ well-worn recipe cards, trimming trees with ornaments they made when they were in elementary school, spinning records they’ve owned since Robert was the only famous Kardashian.

Tradition’s nice, but so is change. So this year, as you’re making a list of what you want to do over the holidays, and checking it twice, consider mixing things up a little. Here’s how:

If you can shop ’til you drop…

Check out Fiserv Forum’s first Christkindlmarket (open Nov. 17-Dec. 31, except on Christmas Day). The free, outdoor market is modeled after Nuremburg’s famous winter fair. And, like its German counterpart, the Milwaukee Christkindlmarket features food, drink and craft vendors hawking their wares from underneath cheerful red-and-white tents striped like candy canes. Pick up a cup of warm Glühwein when you arrive, and you’ll stay warm while you shop.

Christkindlmarket; photo by Jim Pritchard

Alternately, if you’d prefer to remain entirely indoors while you buy gifts this year, the MIAD Holiday Sale (Nov. 29-Dec. 1) and Cedarburg Holiday Art Fair (Nov. 30-Dec. 2) are great places to pick up affordable, one-of-a-kind artwork for everyone on your list.

Plus: 14 Milwaukee Holiday Markets You Won’t Want to Miss

If you’re new to the city, or state

Set some time aside for Saint Nicholas Day. Milwaukee is one of only a handful of cities in the United States where the Germanic holiday is celebrated widely (see sidebar). Kids put out shoes or stockings the evening of Dec. 5, and when they wake up the next morning, they find them filled with small treats and toys.

If holiday lights brighten your spirits

Take a trip to Country Christmas (through Dec. 31) in Pewaukee, or the Wisconsin Christmas Carnival of Lights (through Dec. 31, except Christmas Day) in Caledonia. At both locations, you can drive through tunnels studded with thousands upon thousands of lights. Country Christmas also boasts a nearly life-sized recreation of a Nativity scene and an impressive model train display. And at the Wisconsin Christmas Carnival of Lights, you can visit Santa’s Workshop and sign up for a sleigh ride through the grounds.

photo courtesy of Colectivo

If you love the taste of Christmas in your coffee

Eschew big chains like Starbucks and get your caffeine fix from one of the many local coffee shops in the area instead. Colectivo introduces seasonally inspired drinks every winter – like last year’s mint matcha latte, sweetened with honey from a farm in Fox Point. And the fine folks over at Stone Creek Coffee say that they’ll be putting out several festive brews this year, including a hazelnut mocha and a churro latte. Ditto Anodyne, which will be offering Indulgence Mayan Spice Cocoa using powder from Indulgence Chocolatier and a “Liquid Gold” oat milk and Rishi masala chai steamer.

If you’re in a giving mood

Support a worthy cause while taking in the sights and sounds of the CP Rail Holiday Train. Since 1999, the Canadian Pacific Railway has been decorating its trains with elaborate light displays and sending them chugging through stations across Canada and the United States. When the train stops in Downtown Milwaukee (Dec. 6), local musician Willy Porter will play to the assembled crowd, and CP employees will accept donations for area food banks.

If you love baking cookies

Level up your game by learning how to design and decorate an entire gingerbread house, from frosted foundation to gumdrop roof. Sign up for the Milwaukee Public Market’s $25 workshop (Dec. 9), and they’ll provide you with everything you need to build the (tiny, sugary) home of your dreams. Or, if you’ve got little tykes in tow, you can bring them to the Atkinson Library (Dec. 4) for a free craft session and story hour centered on the legend of the gingerbread man. 

Sugar Rush

Every year MATC hosts a gingerbread house-building contest for its Baking & Pastry Arts students and displays the sugary stunners at the Public Market (Dec. 1-12). Here are a few of our favorite 2017 entries:

photo by Stefton Iplock

A three-story stunner created by McKenzie Miller & Ana Silva

photo by Stefton Iplock

Joanne Tate-Hayes’ attention to detail shines in this entry

photo by Stefton Iplock

A sleeping dragon curls around MacKenzie Dale’s cute cottage

photo by Stefton Iplock

A sweet wintertime church scene by Brittany Dailey

If you’ve taken Milwaukee’s polar plunge

Then you’re tough enough to stay outside a little longer and check out the chill (pun very much intended) Cool Fool Kite Festival, which takes place at Veterans Park on New Year’s Day. The free event features lots and lots of kites (bring one of your own, if you’ve got one), free hot chocolate and coffee, ice sculptures and kite-flying lessons. So, if you’ve resolved to finally learn how to fly a kite in 2019, you can cross that item off your list right away.

If you want to catch a classic show

Try something a little less established, but as worthy of your time, as A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker. Black Arts MKE and the Marcus Center have been co-producing Black Nativity (Dec. 7-16) since 2015, and the gospel musical – written by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes – has quickly become a staple of the city’s performing arts scene. You could also opt to see something entirely new, like Christmas in Babylon, a play penned by Wisconsin native James DeVita that’s making its world premiere at the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (Nov. 21-Dec. 23).

“Frosty Fun” appears in the December 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop or find the October issue on newsstands, starting Dec. 3.

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.