12 Days of Holiday Celebrations across Minnesota

By Caitlin Rick

The holidays are a magical time in Minnesota. With fresh snow, towering pines, holiday lights displays and festive events, you will find numerous events to get you into the holiday spirit.

Bentleyville Tour of Lights, Duluth

#OnlyinMN Monument Bentleyville

Every winter, Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park transforms into “America's Largest Free Walk-Through Lighting Display," shining bright with 4 million lights. Visitors can enjoy hot cocoa, popcorn or roasted marshmallows while marveling at the brilliant displays. This year’s event will also host the #OnlyinMN monument. Bentleyville is open daily Nov. 18 - Dec. 26. Admission is free, but monetary donations as well as unwrapped toys and non-perishable food items are appreciated.

Kiwanis Tour of Lights, Mankato

Kiwanis Lights in Mankato

Open Nov. 24 - Dec. 31, this festive display in Mankato has over 1.5 million LED lights, animated displays, a skating rink and warming house, horse-drawn wagon rides, Santa Claus, live reindeer, ice sculptures and more. Event goers can walk or drive through the dazzling display. The event is free, but guests are encouraged to bring monetary donations, non-perishable food items and personal care items for the local food shelter.

Holiday Trains, Statewide

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train will visit more than two-dozen Minnesota towns on its annual ride through the northern U.S. The festive train is decked out in holiday lights and features live entertainment and spreads Christmas cheer at every stop in exchange for donations to local food banks. The train will be in Minnesota from Dec. 5-13 and will visit Rochester, Austin, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Thief River Falls and more. See the full list of towns here.

In Duluth, the Christmas City Express departs from the Fitger’s shopping complex and chugs along Lake Superior to the Duluth Depot. While on board, guests will enjoy carolers, hear a holiday story and have the opportunity to visit Santa. The Christmas City Express runs weekends in November and December.

Holidazzle, Minneapolis

Holidazzle in Minneapolis

Many Minnesota families have fond memories of visiting Holidazzle in downtown Minneapolis. The reimagined festival is now just a few minutes away in Loring Park. With heated tents, food booths, festive drinks and more, it’s a great spot to spend a few hours getting into the holiday spirit. Find Minnesota-made treasures from local artisans, see a holiday movie under the stars and enjoy the fireworks. Holidazzle is open Thursdays through Sundays, Nov. 24 - Dec. 23.

Holiday Treats & Sweets

Minnesota Cookie

Get your fill of holiday sweets and treats and leave the baking to someone else at Union Depot’s holiday bake sale in St. Paul on Dec. 9 or the Christmas in the County event in Austin, Dec. 8 - 9. Bake a holiday treat with your child and learn about the history of Swedish holiday traditions at the Mill City Museum’s Family Baking: Holiday Traditions event on select days in December.

European Christmas Markets

European Market Union Depot
Courtesy Union Depot

Get into the holiday spirit and stroll through a European-style Christmas market to find one-of-a-kind gifts and holiday decorations. Warm up with a cup of Glühwein or sample European-inspired dishes. St. Paul’s Union Depot hosts the European Christmas Market Dec. 1-3 and Dec. 8 -10. Plan a festive outing with your family to Excelsior’s Christkindlsmarkt’s KinderWorld to enjoy puppet shows, storytime, alpacas, reindeers and more.

Historic Home Tours

Glensheen Mansion at Christmas

The halls of Minnesota’s historic homes are decked for the holidays. Tour the Mayowood Mansion in Rochester or Hubbard House in Mankato, see 25 decorated trees at Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, or experience what the holidays were like 100 years ago at the Charles A. Lindbergh house and museum in Little Falls.

Main Street Shopping

Northfield Holiday Market

Stroll through some of Minnesota’s most charming downtowns, find one-of-a-kind gifts from local shops and partake in festive holiday fun at Nisswa’s annual City of Lights celebration on Nov. 24. There will be fireworks, food vendors, live music and more. Visit downtown Stillwater from Black Friday to New Year’s Eve to find carolers, horse-drawn wagonette rides, shopping deals, live reindeer and more. Experience Downtown Northfield by candlelight at Northfield’s 19th annual Winter Walk celebration on Dec. 7. The street is lined with hundreds of luminaries and the shops offer great holiday specials. Enjoy live music, dining and more.

You-Pick Christmas Tree Farms

Kruegers Christmas Tree Farm

Channel your inner Clark Griswold and visit one of Minnesota’s you-pick Christmas tree farms. This outing is not only fun, but it’s good for the environment. For every tree harvested for the holidays, farmers plant an average of one to three seedlings in its place. Each farm features its own personality, from quiet and peaceful to bustling holiday hubs with sleigh rides, family crafts, Santa Claus meet-and-greets and more.     

Holiday Shows

How the Grinch Stole Christmas Cast

If you love holiday tunes and traditions, you have no shortage of options. Enjoy your favorite carols or discover new favorites at Keri Noble’s “A Very Special Christmas” concert, Nov. 24-25 at Chanhassen’s Fireside Theatre. Watch a holiday classic come to life at the Children’s Theatre Company’s production of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or “The Nutcracker” at the Mayo Civic Center Presentation Hall in Rochester.

The St. Olaf Christmas Festival is one of the oldest Christmas musical celebrations in the United States. It dates back to 1912 and features more than 500 student musicians and the St. Olaf Orchestra.

Santa Claus Meet-and-Greets

Santa and Mrs. Claus

Snap a photo with Santa and see live reindeer at Holz Farm Old Fashioned Holiday in Eagan on Dec. 3, or see Mrs. Claus at the Taylors Falls lighting festival Nov. 24-26. Visit Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the gang at Shakopee’s Holiday Fest on Dec. 1. Join the Christmas in the Park celebration in Crosby Dec. 6 to see the tree lighting, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, live reindeer and more. Santa and his reindeer also pay a visit to the Andrew J. Volstead House Museum in Granite Falls on Dec. 17.

Holiday Teas

St. James Hotel lobby, Red Wing

Sip tea and enjoy treats like warm scones, canapés, cheesecakes, tea sandwiches and more. Book a tea time at the Lowell Inn in Stillwater or the Mad Hatter in Anoka. If you would like to bring the kids, join the Mad Hatter’s Elf on the Shelf tea party featuring Sprinkles the Elf. The St. James Hotel in Red Wing offers a Nutcracker Tea with finger sandwiches, petite desserts and ornate nutcrackers up for auction on Dec. 10.

See what’s happening only in Minnesota this holiday and winter season. Share your Minnesota holiday adventures using #OnlyinMN.