12 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Minnesota

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Kiwanis Holiday Lights, Mankato / SPX Sports

12 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Minnesota

By Caitlin Hannah

With fresh snow, towering pines, light displays, seasonal treats and festive activities, the holidays are a magical time in Minnesota. Make the most of all that the season offers with these spirited events.

  1. Holiday Light Displays
    Bentleyville Tour of Lights Duluth

    Bentleyville Tour of Lights, Duluth / Dennis O'Hara

    Holiday Light Displays

    Every winter, Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park transforms into “America's Largest Free Walk-Through Lighting Display," shining bright with 4 million lights at Bentleyville Tour of Lights. Visitors can enjoy hot cocoa, popcorn and roasted marshmallows while marveling at the brilliant displays. Bentleyville is open daily Nov. 20 - Dec. 27. Admission is free, but monetary donations as well as unwrapped toys and non-perishable food items are appreciated.

    Open Nov. 26 - Dec. 31, Kiwanis Holiday Lights 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 and personal care items for the local food shelter.

    The Winter Lights celebration at the Minnesota Arboretum will enhance the beauty of the natural landscape with 16 outdoor light displays featuring flowers, nature and winter fun on an accessible and stroller-friendly walk that spans over a half-mile.   

    Hop in your car with some hot cocoa and see thousands of sparkling lights at drive-through displays at Sertoma Winter Wonderland in Baxter, Celebrate the Light of the World in Willmar or Sever's Holiday Lights in Shakopee.

    The GLOW Holiday Festival at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds features over a million lights, ice palace, Sky Glider rides and some of your favorite State Fair foods.

    Minnesota's beloved Santa Bears are back at the new Dayton's Project to celebrate its grand opening. Stroll down Nicollet Avenue to see 18 holiday displays inside the iconic Dayton's building.

  2. Holiday Trains
    Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

    The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train visits more than two-dozen Minnesota towns on its annual trek through the northern U.S. / Canadian Pacific

    Holiday Trains

    The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train will be virtual for 2021 but past stops have included Winona, Wabasha, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Alexandria, Thief River Falls and more.

    In Duluth, the Christmas City Express chugs along Lake Superior to and from the Duluth Depot. While onboard, guests will enjoy carolers, hear a holiday story and have the opportunity to visit Santa Claus. The Christmas City Express runs select weekends in November and December.

  3. Festive Holiday Events
    Holidazzle Interactive Illuminated Art moose installation

    The Wolf and Moose, a Christopher Lutter-Gardella creation / Dusty Hoskovec Photography, courtesy

    Festive Holiday Events

    The Northern Express is bringing Minnesota double the fun with celebrations in Excelsior and Moorhead. At this new, immersive experience you will find holiday markets, Santa Claus meet-and-greets, Christmas llamas, festive food and drink, reindeer and more.

    The festive Scandinavian holiday celebration of Oh Ole Night is returning to downtown Grand Marais Nov. 26. The celebration will include a parade, tree lighting, fireworks and more.

    Holidazzle is back in downtown Minneapolis Dec. 17 – 19 with new experiences, including a Ferris Wheel, carousel and giant slide under the skyline, as well as old favorites, such as the Holidazzle Yeti, fireworks, festive food and drink, shopping and more in Loring Park.

  4. Holiday Treats & Sweets
    Minnesota shaped Christmas cookie

    Minnesota shaped Christmas cookie / Rachel Bartz

    Holiday Treats & Sweets

    Get your fill of holiday sweets and treats and leave the baking to someone else. Visit a local bakery, café or restaurant to pick up locally made cookies, cakes and other treats.

  5. European Christmas Markets
    European Christmas Market at night in Saint Paul

    European Christmas Market, St. Paul / Union Depot

    European Christmas Markets

    Stroll through a European-style Christmas market to find one-of-a-kind gifts and holiday decorations. Warm up with a cup of Gluhwein or sample European-inspired dishes at the European Christmas Market at St. Paul’s Union Depot, Nov. 26 - Dec. 19. Plan a festive outing with your family to Excelsior’s Christkindlsmarkt’s KinderWorld, Nov. 26 - Dec. 5, to see puppet shows, storytime, alpacas, reindeer and more.

    You can also find holiday markets at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. including the MN Christmas Market Nov. 27 and Duluth Winter Village Dec. 4 – 5.

  6. Historic Home Tours
    Holiday Decorations at Glensheen Mansion Duluth

    Holiday decorations at Glensheen Mansion in Duluth

    Historic Home Tours

    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 in Duluth or experience what the holidays were like 100 years ago at the Charles A. Lindbergh House and Museum in Little Falls.

  7. Pop-Up Holiday Bars
    Christmas decorations at Lawless Distilling

    Sip festive drinks at the holiday-themed "Miracle at Lawless" pop-up / Darin Kamnetz

    Pop-Up Holiday Bars

    These holiday-themed pop-up bars transform their spaces to make their spirits bright. Miracle at Lawless Distilling in Minneapolis is open Nov. 4 - Dec. 31 and serves holiday cocktails in a festive setting. Guests can sip festive drinks like a Snowball Old Fashioned surrounded by kitschy holiday decor and holiday tunes.

    Located in northeast Minneapolis, Psycho Suzi's is transformed into Mary’s Christmas Palace until Dec. 31. The food and drink menu have a festive overlay, serving up specialties like cookies for Santa or Gingerbread White Russian.

  8. Main Street Shopping
    Winter downtown New Ulm

    Downtown New Ulm looks like a winter postcard / Kyle Krenz

    Main Street Shopping

    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. 26. 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 Winter Walk celebration on Dec. 9. The street is lined with hundreds of luminaries and the shops offer great holiday specials.

  9. You-Pick Christmas Tree Farms
    Kruegers Christmas Tree Farm in Lake Elmo

    Krueger's Christmas Tree Farm, Lake Elmo

    You-Pick Christmas Tree Farms

    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 also 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.   

  10. Holiday Shows
    Children's Theatre Company How the Grinch Stole Christmas

    How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Children's Theatre Company   / Dan Norman - Children's Theatre Company

    Holiday Shows

    Watch a holiday classic at "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play," performed at The Saint Paul Hotel and accompanied by lunch or dinner.  

    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.

  11. Santa Claus Meet-and-Greets
    Santa at the Mall of America

    Mall of America decked out for the holidays / Mike Madison

    Santa Claus Meet-and-Greets

    Snap a photo with Santa and see live reindeer at Holz Farm Old Fashioned Holiday in Eagan or see Mrs. Claus at the Taylors Falls lighting festival. 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. All season long, you can schedule private meet-and-greets with Santa at Mall of America. In person visits are no contact & by appointment. Virtual visits also available.

  12. Holiday Teas
    Saint James Hotel Red Wing

    Saint James Hotel, Red Wing / Courtesy Red Wing Visitors & Convention Bureau

    Holiday Teas

    Sip tea and enjoy treats like warm scones, canapes, cheesecakes, tea sandwiches and more. Book a tea time at the Lowell Inn in Stillwater, the Mad Hatter in Anoka or The Saint Paul Hotel.

Caitlin Hannah

Caitlin Hannah is Explore Minnesota's social media strategist and resident Disney expert. She grew up spending summer weekends at her family's lake cabin in Detroit Lakes, and brings that "up north" attitude to everything she does. When traveling around the state, she likes trying new restaurants and taprooms, or watching Minnesota hockey.