Milwaukee’s Holiday Lights Festival Kicks Off This Week!

The festival will run through Jan. 1.

Downtown Milwaukee will be illuminated starting Thursday with more than 500,000 lights and dozens of animated displays during the 23rd annual Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival.

The display of lights, coordinated by Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District #21 and presented by Johnson Financial Group, will transform three downtown parks into winter wonderland scenes – Community Spirit Park at Cathedral Square Park, HiBEARnation Station at Pere Marquette Park and Home is Where the Hearth Is powered by We Energies” at Zeidler Union Square – as well as illuminate three downtown thoroughfares, including an 18-block stretch of lights along Wisconsin Avenue.

Festivalgoers can experience the lights by car, on foot or by climbing aboard The Hop streetcar. A Jingle Bus podcast, available in English and Spanish, will highlight must-see scenes and acclimate visitors with nearby attractions. The free, self-guided audio tour will be available beginning Nov. 18 on the iHeartRadio app or anywhere where podcasts are hosted by searching “MKE Jingle Bus Tour.”

 

 

On select Friday and Saturday nights in December (Dec. 3-18), families can swing through the Jingle Joy drive-thru at Zeidler Union Square for a snack. Featuring gourmet treats from local businesses handpicked by Milwaukee Food & City Tours, Jingle Joy bags are available at a cost of $15 and can be pre-ordered at milwaukeefoodtours.com or purchased the day of the event, while supplies last. The Jingle Joy drive-thru will operate from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Cash and credit cards will be accepted.

Community Spirit Park at Cathedral Square Park will continue the tradition of hosting a direct connection to the North Pole. Santa’s Mailbox presented by Educators Credit Union, Serving Older Adults and National Association of Letter Carriers Pioneer Branch 2, returns Nov. 18-Dec. 12. As part of the magic of the season, children who drop their letters into Santa’s Mailbox will receive a personalized reply in the mail, provided they include a return address. No postage is required.

Ideal Property Management will return to Pere Marquette Park with a pop-up tree lot. Guests can choose from a wide selection of fresh Wisconsin trees, handmade wreaths and Christmas decor from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Nov. 23-Dec. 24. Also returning to the tree lot is an ice carving demonstration on Dec. 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a live reindeer visit on Dec. 12 from 1:15 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The Festival’s ornament series returns to highlight downtown’s distinguishable icons. Hand-carved by local artist Andrew Schumann, this year’s edition features the Warner marquee at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s new home, the Bradley Symphony Center. The 2021 ornament is available for $19.95 plus shipping and handling at shop.milwaukeedowntown.com. A limited number of past editions are available for $24.95 plus shipping and handling.

The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival will continue to package the variety of activities taking place in downtown Milwaukee over the holiday season into a comprehensive brochure. Covering events, dining, nightlife, hotel accommodations and retail destinations, the brochure is available at milwaukeeholidaylights.com.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.