A Handful of Holiday Festivals

Here are some of the earliest holiday festivals outside of the Twin Cities to kick off your merriment this season

A girl hugging a reindeer. Photo by natasnow/Fotolia
Photo by natasnow/Fotolia

Mother Nature’s snow flurries want to direct our thoughts to chestnuts roasting over the open fire and yuletide logs. This winter, visit towns outside the metro celebrating the magic of the season with visits from Santa, tree lighting, carolers, and more. There are the big attractions like Duluth’s Bentleyville, of course, but there are also smaller stops around the state that are just as rewarding. The following are merely a few of the many options for those who want to start celebrating right now.

Nov. 17: Frost Fest in Baudette

For (almost) North Pole fun, head up to Baudette. See the famous holiday light and fish house parade, followed by the tree lighting and a fireworks display. Before then, enjoy live music, a marketplace at Lake of the Woods High School gym and commons area, and a community lasagna dinner, or do what people flock to Lake of the Woods to do: fish. Target Walleye recently named Lake of the Woods the No. 1 ice fishing destination in the U.S., but even if you don’t want to take advantage of the Walleye Capital of the World, people love snowmobiling, sledding, skating, cross-country skiing, fat biking, and visiting the Igloo Bar, a 1,000-plus-square-foot bar on the ice where you can actually fish inside of it while watching the game on TV.

Nov. 17: Holidaze in Willmar

Starting at 4 p.m. with a visit from Santa at the Barn Theatre and ending with a free screening of The Santa Clause starring Tim Allen at the same place, this evening festival will have you saying “Ho, ho, ho.” In between, check out the petting zoo, reindeer sleigh rides, penguins, crafts, and inflatables with the family, and don’t forget to stop by the community drum circles and turkey bowling. When you’re hungry, grab some free chili at Bethel Lutheran Church and consider donating as a thank you for the food. The parade starts at 6:30 p.m. with the movie right after, so really, if you wanted a crash course into the holiday season, this is it.

Nov. 28-Dec. 1: Santa’s Home for the Holidays in Cloquet

Festivities begin on Wednesday with Elf Bingo for Kids, but Saturday is the main event including a pancake breakfast at 8:30 a.m., a craft fair, magic shows and cookie decorating, live reindeer, inflatables, and of course, a parade and a fireworks show. The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays is laying at the County Seat Theater at 2 or 7 p.m., and the other evening headliner is the alumni hockey game between the Cloquet Lumberjacks and Duluth East.

Nov. 30-Dec. 2: Julebyen in Knife River

Pronounced YOOL-eh-BE-en, which configures into “Christmas Village,” Julebyen is just a short drive—or ride on the Julebyen Express train—away from Duluth. The whole weekend is packed with indoor and outdoor markets, Scandinavian food, demonstrations for activities like dog sledding and lefse making, sledding, fun competitions (how fast can you dress up in the troll costume?), music, theater storytelling, and even a troll under a bridge.

Dec. 1: Holiday Fest in Jackson

Some things last all week, like the coloring contest—for all ages—and the gingerbread house contest and ice skating, but on Saturday, you can schedule out your whole day so it includes the Elf-N-Cocoa Fun Run/5K, Santa’s Workshop, a craft fair and holiday market, horse-drawn wagon rides, free movies, free swimming (indoors, of course), holiday concerts, wine tastings, an “Empty Bowl” soup fundraiser, and a lighted parade followed by fireworks.