Minnesota’s Best Holiday Events
Bring on the carols and comedy, the trolleys and trains, the lights and the glögg to revel in the holiday spirit
photo courtesy of holidazzle.com
Brave New Workshop Holiday Revue
This year’s show, The Polarizing Express: Dysfunction Junction, riffs on the family faux pas and P.C. blunders that make us cringe during the holidays, featuring cast members of Minneapolis’ improv comedy troupe.
A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale was a potboiler—something he whipped up to keep bread on the table. Today, it’s his biggest pop-culture hit. The Guthrie has put it on for more than 40 years—perfect for the Minneapolis theater’s democratizing-the-high-brow mission. This time, really soak in that sobering, somewhat political third act.
Simplegifts With Billy Mclaughlin
Local singer and guitarist Billy McLaughlin takes the holiday road less traveled in cities across the metro every season, skirting the commercial tunes of mall-speaker purgatory in favor of lesser-known European classics, accompanied by Old World sounds: violins, bagpipes, and angelic three-part harmony.
Bentleyville Tour Of Lights
Billing itself as “America’s largest free walk-through lighting display,” this tour started as one ambitious Cloquet resident’s front yard setup, attracting some 35,000 visitors in its first two years. Today, it sprawls its holiday incandescence out over 20 acres in Duluth’s Bayfront Park.
For years, pianist Lorie Line has gone all out with her holiday concerts touring Minnesota cities, as much with her virtuosity and flair for adapting music as with her glamorous, campy, let’s-put-on-a-show style.
More than 1.5 million LED lights illuminate Mankato as a parade runs through town and a 5K winds along Sibley Park, live reindeer on the sidelines. After taking to the skating rink, bundle up in the warming house and admire live, artful ice sculpting.
Red Wing Holiday Stroll
Red Wing’s holiday tour includes fire dancers, cookie decorating, live music by local musicians, an expo of vintage snowmobiles, a themed parade echoing the Holidazzle’s kitschy costumes of yore, and more.
Cirque Dreams Holidaze
More than 300 Broadway-on-steroids costumes, 20 circus acts, original songs, and all the gaudiest trappings of the season make for such a flashy spectacle of tinsel and glitter at Mystic Lake in Prior Lake that it will either inspire you to plunder Whoville or your heart to grow three sizes.
11/30; 12/14, 28; 1/4
Spirited Glögg Tours
The seasonally outfitted American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis hosts walking tours, this year playing to the theme Fest!, featuring displays demonstrating holiday traditions from the five Nordic countries, plus Romanian cuisine and glögg, or mulled wine.
St. Olaf Christmas Festival
It’s one of the oldest musical Christmas celebrations in the country, with more than 500 student musicians blending their voices and performing individually for a spine-tingling revisit of holiday classics at Northfield’s St. Olaf College.
Rock ’N’ Roll Christmas
Not everyone likes a silent night. In various cities, including Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, and Grand Rapids, rock musicians rip into classics you didn’t realize could use a little distortion, pulling the strings for a multimedia spectacle that feels less like ’round yon manger and more like Jon Bon Jovi.
Concordia College Christmas Concert
Performing Minnesota’s most-attended Christmas concert, Concordia College’s 400 student vocalists fill both the auditorium of their Moorhead campus and Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall with soaring songs new and old.
A tourist-carrying train called the North Pole Express rolls into St. Paul’s Union Depot. We solidify our association of Will Ferrell with the holidays by viewing Elf in the Depot waiting room. Then a European-style market takes over the first two weekends of the month, setting up beside a charming view of the city and hosting a holiday bake sale on December 9.
Tents pop up in Minneapolis’ Loring Park, where you can buy warm pretzels, sausages, pierogis, crisp local craft brews, glühwein (red wine mixed with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg), and more. Shop artisanal soaps and wool socks and check out weekly movies and choir performances.
Langston Hughes’ retelling of the Nativity story, with an all-black cast, returns to Penumbra in St. Paul—carrying on a tradition draped in gospel music and starring standout vocalists who put joy back into a celebratory Bible story often subjected to dry pageantry.
Letters written by the servants and members of St. Paul’s wealthy 20th-century Hill family illustrate scenes from their Christmases, showcased at the Summit Avenue mansion where the celebrations took place. Check out the period-specific décor—candles glowing in trees—and don’t get spooked; that’s just history stirring.
As you wander through the historic Glensheen mansion in Duluth, Christmas trees spring to life, lighting up the historic space, where the Gilded Age Congdon family—iron-mining moguls—lives on in pristinely preserved artifacts and letters.
Board a trolley trundling through the Rochester metro area, all aglow with residential light displays, as holiday music plays inside the warmed interior of this green-and-red, gussied-up transit mode of yesteryear.
Indigenous to Mexico, poinsettias have become synonymous with the holidays. St. Paul’s Como Park Conservatory this year fills its warm interiors with a pink variety, featuring traces of white, to continue its more-than-90-year tradition of hosting this warm, tropical-flower refuge.
Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
This 14-car, fully operational train, garlanded in candy-bright lights, shuttles through Minnesota, making 26 stops from Rochester to Elbow Lake while freighting a team of musicians. When the train screeches to a halt, a boxcar door opens as a makeshift platform for performers in spirited costume, crowds huddling around.
Downtown Northfield gets the candlelight treatment, as carolers and horse-drawn wagons bustle down streets and festively dressed storefronts coax in shoppers and diners while the Arts Guild Dance Studio presents The NAGCracker, with sugarplum-inspired dance numbers.
Hershel And The Hanukkah Goblins
Hershel arrives in town excited to celebrate Hanukkah—only to find that goblins have prevented residents from lighting their menorahs and eating latkes. St. Paul’s Jewish Theatre Company stages this children’s book adaptation about saving the holiday.
TCGMC’s Gay Holiday Spectacular
At Minneapolis’ Ted Mann Concert Hall, the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus performs global holiday music—from countries including Ukraine, Nigeria, and Mexico—and puts a Minnesotan twist on the hippopotamus classic: “I Want a Lumbersexual for Christmas.”
Storyteller Kevin Kling, of NPR’s All Things Considered, has hopped trains and been struck by lightning, but it’s in the mundane that he often finds his tenderest, funniest tales. At Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, he spins a yuletide yarn about family traditions.
Christmas With Cantus
Combining carols and holiday literature at venues including the St. Paul Ordway, the a capella men’s choir takes on classics and new hits between recited passages from A Christmas Carol, Gift of the Magi, and ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.
It’s become a local classic: Tchaikovsky’s ballet, about a girl’s fevered imagination transforming one Christmas into a war with rats and a royal recital, returns to State Theatre in Minneapolis.