Winter is not necessarily the best time to enjoy Milwaukee weather, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try. The holiday season has officially started, and throughout the Milwaukee-area there are celebrations to get you in the holiday spirit.
1. Holiday Lights & Santa's Mailbox at Cathedral Square
This marks the 20th year the Holiday Lights Festival returns to Milwaukee. Cathedral Square Park has one of the largest displays, featuring trees decorated by community groups and a very special mailbox with a direct line to Santa.
"If you get your letter in on Sunday [Dec. 9], your kids can actually — if they include their return address — can receive a personalized letter from Santa or his helpers," says Marshall.
2. Christkindlmarket Milwaukee
It's the first year of Milwaukee's Christkindlmarket, but many Milwaukeeans are already familiar with the outdoor market that has become a tradition in Chicago. Fredrich says, "So many people would go down to Chicago for it in past years ... and I think they've done a really good job, kind of recreating [it]."
Milwaukee's Christkindlmarket is located in the plaza outside of Fiserv Forum and, like Chicago's market, it features a variety of traditional treats, including Gluwein and Bavarian hot chocolate.
3. Ice Skating at Red Arrow Park
This perennial favorite has become a tradition for many families. While ice skating can seem a bit treacherous to some, Marshall says you shouldn't let that stop you from checking out the rink.
"You do not have to know how to ice skate to go there. You can get on the ice for free, if you don't have ice skates you can rent them for six bucks. If you want to hang onto the wall the whole time, there's lots of people hanging on the wall the whole time! And if you have little kids, you can rent a little penguin which has handles to keep them from falling, like every three seconds."
4. Lux Domes at Cafe Benelux
People who work in downtown Milwaukee have likely seen the igloo-like domes on the rooftop of Cafe Benelux in the Third Ward. These little bubbles are heated domes where diners can spend 90 minutes feeling like they're outside, but without all the hassle of actually being outside in Milwaukee's winter weather.
"How it works is you can rent it online, you order your food and drink upfront, so that when you arrive the food is there waiting for you," explains Marshall. "Two things to note: you have a 90 minute reservation, which is probably doable if the food and drink is waiting there for you. But the other thing is: in your bubble, it can only be people who are 21 and older, no exceptions."
Editor's note: The Lux Domes are currently booked up, but they will soon begin taking reservations again.
5. Non-Mall Santa Visits
"If you're like me, maybe you're a little overwhelmed by going to the mall, so I wanted to present two non-mall Santa options," says Marshall.
6. Miracle Pop-up Bar
Each year, a different pop-up bar creates some holiday cheer with kitschy decorations and holiday-themed drinks. This newer tradition started in New York City as a way of getting folks in the holiday spirit. This year, Milwaukee's Miracle Bar will be hosted by Tin Widow.
"It's always really festive," says Fredrich. "If you haven't been to the Tin Widow, Tin Widow's kind of like your grandfather's basement — sort of a cute, little, tucked-away bar. But they have gone all-out and decorated it."
7. Champagne Tasting at Thief Wine
Champagne is a holiday staple. For some of us this will be the only time during the year that we bring out the bubbly, so we may not know exactly what we want to drink. Thief Wine's Champagne tasting can help.
"I think it's a really great way of tasting, finding out what you like, and then maybe bringing home some bottles to pop at your house for the holidays," says Fredrich.
8. Holiday Coffee Tasting and Brew Demo at Colectivo
Coffee can be a great gift, but if you're not a coffee aficionado, you may not know what roast to gift your loved ones. Colectivo's Holiday Coffee Tasting and Brew demo gives you a chance to try out some coffee and discover some new ways of making it.
"You can try some of their limited collection for the holidays, but you can also learn how to use different brewing methods," notes Marshall. "French press, Aeropress, V60 — by the end you should be able to brew a pretty fancy cup of coffee."
9. Tre Rivali's Feast of the Seven Fishes Specials
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American Christmas tradition, which honors the abstinence from meat that many Catholics observe on Christmas Eve.
"You sit down and you eat your way through seven courses, all of which feature seafood and they are doing a variation on it. So, from Dec. 17- 23, they're offering seven different dishes, a different dish every day," says Fredrich.
10. $5 Tuesdays at Marcus Theaters
Both Fredrich and Marshall agree: winter break can be long for families. So, Marcus Theaters' $5 Tuesdays are a good way of spending some time with family in a more relaxed setting.
"It's brilliant, comes with popcorn —$5 per ticket," says Marshall. "It's just a great way to spend a couple hours."
11. Black Nativity Presented by Bronzeville Arts Ensemble
Written by Langston Hughes, this production is a collaboration between Black Arts MKE and the Marcus Center for Performing Arts. It features a cast of local performers and runs from Dec. 6-16 at the Marcus Center.
"It's just a beautiful story-telling of the nativity through African-American poetry and dance and song," Marshall says.
"Apparently there's a lot of Milwaukee sledding enthusiasts — there's actually sledhill guides," says Marshall, who admits she doesn't really sled.
Marshall says that St. Mary's Hill on the East Side and Curry Park in Wauwatosa are both perennial favorites. If you're looking to sled at night, there are even some hills that stay lit to help guide you through the dark, Wisconsin winter.
13. Dandan's New Years Day Brunch
The American-Chinese restaurant Dandan hosts a New Years Day brunch featuring a dim sum menu. Although dim sum is uncommon in Milwaukee, the bite-sized food options should be fairly familiar to those who enjoy Chinese cuisine.
"Milwaukee does not have a plethora of places to enjoy dim sum, but they really go all out with their New Years Day brunch," says Fredrich. "It's served a la carte from 11 a.m.- 3 p.m., and I think it is a really unique, delicious way to ring in the New Year."
14. Extend a Friendly Hand to Those in Need
Marshall says that helping someone in need is one of her must-do things for the holidays. "I think that nothing gets you in the spirit of holiday more than helping someone who's lonely or having a hard time."
She continues, "I don't know what that looks like for you. Maybe it means inviting somebody who just lost a loved one to your Christmas table that year to share a meal. Or maybe it means volunteering at the Salvation Army, or singing neighborhood Christmas Carols, or dropping cookies off at the police department or fire department. Just find a way that for you and your family is really meaningful."
15. Donate to Charity
There are many local charities that have specific holiday events in the Milwaukee-area, including one that OnMilwaukee is involved with. The online magazine has joined forces with AJ Bombers for its Peanut Butter and Jolly drive. They're collecting jars of peanut butter for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin — a coveted item at many food banks. There are donation boxes located throughout the city.