Don’t let the cold weather fool you. Visiting Milwaukee during the month of December yields a bunch of cheery events, some connected to the winter holidays and others just plain fun. From a European-style Christmas market to a performance of “The Nutcracker,” and even a bus tour that celebrates who bakes Milwaukee's best festive treats, here’s what you’ll want to incorporate into your schedule to get into the festive spirit. Many are family-friendly and kid-oriented, perfect for multi-generational groups. If you have limited time, simply stroll the downtown-Milwaukee area where city streets are all a-glow with holiday lights and decorations.
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The German Christmas Market of Oconomowoc
Just like in Germany, this Christmas market is quickly becoming an annual tradition for Lake Country residents. This year is the 6th anniversary. Outdoor beer gardens serving German beer, 30 huts filled with vendors selling artisan-made goods (many linked to the holidays, such as tree ornaments and house décor), and live polka music are part of the fun. Should there be a chill in the air, there are plenty of indoor spaces to shop, nosh and drink.
When: Nov. 24-26, 2017
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Although you’ll see the lights (numbering around 500,000) throughout all of downtown, it’s best to head to Cathedral Square or Pere Marquette Park, where an elaborate display is set up each year. In fact, 2017 is the 104th year for this annual celebration that kicks off in mid-November with the official first lighting, including the Christmas tree at City Hall (corner of North Water Street and East Wells Street).
When: Daily through Jan. 1, 2018
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Festivities start Friday evening with Trinity Irish Dancers, Milwaukee Police Band and Mrs. Claus (with her reindeer). Horse-drawn carriage rides and a cookie sale are also happening on Friday evening, culminating in a fireworks show. All day Saturday are shopping deals at local businesses to the tune or roaming carolers (from noon to 2 p.m.).
When: Dec. 1-2, 2017
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Brand-new in 2017, the Christkindlmarket will evoke Europe’s Christmas markets with German mulled wine, hot chocolate and other drinks, with vendors selling a mix of locally made and imported products to help get your holiday-shopping started. Items for sale range from Underground Meats sausages, Pilcrow Coffee beans and Indulgence Chocolatiers chocolate products. Caroling and other live-music performances will be held, too, creating a festive atmosphere.
When: Dec. 1-2, 2017Continue to 5 of 7 below.
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Hosted every year by Milwaukee Ballet, performances bring together 150 students receiving instruction from the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, plus an additional 50 dancers. Tchaikovsky’s musical score accompanies the dances, including “Waltz of the Flowers” and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” A variety of matinees and nighttime performances are offered throughout December.
When: Dec. 9-26, 2017
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With performances taking place in the historic Pabst Theater, “A Christmas Carol” is yet another Milwaukee tradition each winter-holiday season. Adaptations might vary each year but the message is still the same, and the show based on Charles Dickens’ story (first published in London in 1843) about Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from despising Christmas to ultimately loving it.
When: Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2017
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This special seasonal food tour from Milwaukee Food & City Tours takes you to the best places to sample holiday-themed baked goods, pastries and other sweet treats. Expect stops at ethnic bakeries and be sure to bring cash to buy edible souvenirs for family and friends. The great part about this tour is that you don’t have to fuss with driving directions or look up addresses—just hop on the bus and the driver will take you to only the best bakeries that know how to celebrate the winter holidays.
When: select dates between Dec. 1-25, 2017