Pabst Mansion

16 Milwaukee Holiday Traditions You Have to Try At Least Once

How to have the Milwaukee-est holiday season ever

Milwaukee knows how to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. The city is full of seasonal staples that have become synonymous with December.

Celebrate St. Nick’s Day

St. Nicholas Day may be observed across the globe, but Milwaukee does it best (in our humble opinion). Even though St. Nick’s Day is not a formally recognized U.S. holiday, it has a stronghold in cities with strong German roots. Milwaukeeans take Dec. 6 to heart, filling children’s stockings with small treats like fruit, candy or small toys to keep the tradition alive. For many, it’s the kickstarter to the holiday season.

Indulge in a Tom and Jerry

Take a quick trip down to Von Trier or Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge and sip on a warm, sweet Tom and Jerry. The eggnog-alternative, usually made with rum and brandy and served warm, will fill you with holiday spirit (and maybe a buzz).

Take a Ride on the Jingle Bus

Every winter, buses take the streets of Milwaukee by storm. Climb aboard the Jingle Bus, a 40-minute narrated tour that shows off Milwaukee’s downtown light displays and noteworthy landmarks. This makes an affordable family activity or a unique date night.

See A Christmas Carol

Milwaukee Rep’s A Christmas Carol, has become an annual must-see for many Milwaukeeans. The classic tale, which has been running in Milwaukee for over fourdecades, truly touches on what Christmas is all about. Every year is filled with something old and something new so first-timers and old-timers alike can sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Photo via Visit Milwaukee

Nibble on Yule Logs and Stollen

Many bakeries, like Wauwatosa’s La Tarte, get busy baking one of Milwaukee’s favorite sweets: the Yule log, a flavored sponge cake made to resemble an actual log. But if you want to keep warm, try Stollen, the German fruit loaf made annually in many a German-Milwaukee home.

Browse the Cookie Jar

The holidays invite bakers to take the kitchen by storm. And ’tis the season for the annual cookie book! Milwaukeeans eagerly anticipate the annual release of the We Energies cookbook (the archives go back to 1932!), and Mount Carmel Lutheran Church is known for releasing the annual Cookie Jar, complete with 116 spiral bound recipes submitted by the churchgoers, food writers and local chefs alike.

Air Your Grievances on Brady Street

Seinfeld may be known for Jerry’s one-liners, but the sitcom is also accredited for inventing a holiday — Festivus. It was a holiday without materialism or religion that had its own set of traditions like a plain aluminum pole, an airing of grievances and feats of strength. Brady Street celebrates the media-made holiday like no other, hosting a beer run followed by a wrestling competition. The winner receives an iconic aluminum pole while everyone else can take advantage of nearby drink specials.

Take a Trip Down Candy Cane Lane

This West Allis neighborhood lines street after street (or should we say lane after lane) with brightly-lit candy canes and trees wrapped to match. The accompanying houses also shine with lights and décor. But this tradition is more than pretty lights: Each year the neighborhood raises money for Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer and has donated $2 million and counting thus far.

Miller Valley brewery lit up with Christmas lights for their holiday show
Photo courtesy of YouTube

See the MillerCoors Holiday Lites

MillerCoors hosts their own walking tour of lights. This year, the tour will include a Christmas tree made out of 150 beer kegs. At the end of the stroll, the 21+ crowd is welcome to sample beer and sip on Frederick Miller’s Chocolate Lager.

Attend the Jewish Museum Milwaukee’s Annual Christmas Cinema

Jewish Museum Milwaukee uses the day off to bond as a community. Every year on Christmas afternoon, they play a classic hit at the museum. Bring your own blanket, munch on some popcorn and enjoy the low-key day with Milwaukee’s Jewish community.

Grab a Festive Coffee

Starbucks may have a seemingly endless menu of specialty drinks, but so does Colectivo, Stone Creek Coffee and plenty of independent coffee shops in the area. Sip on spiced caffeine or buy a bag of holiday blend beans (Starry Night, anyone?) while supporting a local business.

Take to the Ice

Hit up Red Arrow Park with a pair of skates or rent some on site. Gliding across the outdoor rink is a perfect family affair, date night or neighborhood bonding activity. Warm up with a cup of coffee or cocoa at the on-site Starbucks.

Photo via Visit Milwaukee

Grab a Cranky Al’s Christmas Doughnut

Each December, Cranky Al’s rolls out the magic with their holiday doughnuts. They are known to add a snowman head, pretzel arms and chocolate chip buttons to a powdered doughnut to turn it into a snowman. Or treat yourself to a doughnut with an ice skating Santa on top, peppermint garnishes or red and green frosting and sprinkles.

Photo courtesy of Paul Schwartz, Milwaukee Public Market

View the Milwaukee Public Market’s Gingerbread Houses

The Public Market is a Milwaukee staple, and their parade of gingerbread houses put on by Milwaukee Area Technical College has surely become a seasonal high point as well. Add some holiday cheer to your lunch break and take a gander at the exquisite gingerbread houses made by aspiring bakers.

See the Naughty or Nice Holiday Floral Show

Santa’s elves deck the Domes each year with a massive Christmas tree and an army of smaller trees and flowers. They’ll be hanging around making and wrapping toys. Santa’s iconic list wraps around the tree and visitors can write letters to the big man himself.

Tour the Pabst Mansion

The Pabst Mansion sparkles every holiday season with a spruced-up exterior and interior alike. Countless hours are spent setting up Christmas trees in almost every room, filling bath tubs with gift boxes and making sure no corner of the house goes without a color-coordinated decoration. They also hold a range of events throughout the holiday season, such as twilight self-guided tours.