Wisconsin Traditions for the Holidays

The holiday season means making family memories and enjoying special traditions together. This year, consider adding a new tradition – or two! —to your family’s holiday celebrations in Wisconsin. From solstice hikes to religious gatherings and historic tours, you’re sure to discover something everyone in your group will love.

Zoo Fun for Everyone

Create a wild new family tradition at a holiday zoo event! Take a magical night stroll through the Zoo Lights at Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison. The real animals will be sleeping, but you’ll see some of your favorite creatures recreated in colored lights. Tickets include unlimited carousel rides and (pre-Christmas) visits with Santa for the kids. Bar huts even have alcoholic beverages available for purchase for parents.

The Milwaukee County Zoo has also made Wild Lights an annual event. Illuminated displays include a flock of flamingos, sea creatures and a “Starry Safari.” The zoo also offers a Wild Lights Guide to help visitors with sensory sensitivities prepare for their visits and sensory bags with calming objects. Your group can also enjoy special holiday treats here such as Reindeer Chow, giant sugar cookies and white chocolate peppermint mochas.

For an unforgettable holiday tradition, book a Winter Picnic in a Snow Globe at the Racine Zoo. Cozy up with your loved ones in an outdoor heated dome for a 90-minute experience that includes appetizers, drinks and a family-style meal with a s’mores dessert. Plus, enjoy a visit with an animal ambassador like an ornate box turtle, snake or furry ferret, tabletop games and tickets to the zoo.

Wisconsin Winter Solstice

In the midst of the holiday hubbub, an outdoor solstice celebration with family can become a cherished and meaningful annual tradition. Gather your loved ones and head to the God Jul —Fire of Stockholm event in Stockholm. Experience firelit wonder throughout town, with fire sculptures, ice candles and luminaries, and don’t miss the impressive bonfire on the shore of the Mississippi River.

For more refreshing solstice fun, gather the family for the Winter Solstice Night Hike at the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit. This event, best for families with kids over age six, is a moonlit hike through the woods hosted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

In Madison, join the Winter Solstice Celebration at Olbrich Botanical Gardens for a bonfire, hot cocoa and cider, giant puppets and more. 

Wherever your family chooses to celebrate, you can look forward to longer days ahead!

Chanukah Celebrations

In addition to celebrating Chanukah with family at home, why not add an annual community tradition that everyone will enjoy? The Chanukah Festival & Gelt Drop in Glendale is packed with family fun — a giant Menorah lighting, DJ and live music, a photo booth, craft beer and more (RSVPs are required).

Explore downtown Cedarburg with your group and pick up surprise gifts from local vendors at the Cedarburg Chanukah Walk. Start at the Jewish Discovery Center before taking a horse-drawn carriage ride, then see the Menorah lighting, a marching band and even a fire juggler!

Historic Holidays

Travel back in time with your family and surround yourselves with gorgeous holiday decorations in a historic Wisconsin setting. Each year, The Paine Art Center and Gardens in Oshkosh hosts “Nutcracker in the Castle,” which recreates more than 20 magical scenes inspired by the beloved story. Wander through the holiday story with family before visiting the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cupcake Café in the Conservatory for a sweet treat.

In Janesville, take an open-house tour of more than 100 Christmas trees and decorations inside the Lincoln-Tallman House, with another 75 live, decorated trees on the grounds outside. The unique Holiday Tree Show decorations are created by Janesville-area businesses, nonprofits and families. A cash bar is available on Thursday and Friday evenings for a splash of grown-up holiday cheer.

Christmas at the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee is another charming way to immerse your family in the holiday spirit. Delight in the opulent decorations and time your visit right to get photos with Santa. No littles in your family? Consider the Twilight Tour, which includes live music and seasonal drinks for purchase.

Kwanzaa Celebrations

If you will be in Milwaukee during Kwanzaa, consider adding a community event to your family’s traditions. Celebrate the principle of Umoja (Unity) at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum which offers traditional open ceremonies. The Wisconsin African American Women’s Center also hosts in-person and virtual events throughout the seven days of Kwanzaa, such as music and dance performances, kids activities and more.

Christmas Family Traditions

Discover all kinds of Christmas fun throughout Wisconsin this holiday season. 

Hop aboard the Mid-Continent Railway to ride the Santa Express, a vintage adventure through the snow-covered Wisconsin countryside. With elves, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus and sweet treats for the kids, this is a great way to start off your Christmas season. 

Or, opt for a Santa Cruise on the Lake Geneva Cruise Line, where your family can meet Santa, enjoy tasty treats and glimpse incredible light displays along the shore.

In Oshkosh, discover a family-friendly Christmas tradition at EAA Christmas in the Air. This free event at the iconic EAA Aviation Museum brings a visit from Santa not by reindeer, but by helicopter! With live music, dancing, sweet treats and more, this is a one-of-a-kind event you’ll want to recreate for years to come.

Looking for more magical holiday fun? Check out these spectacular holiday light shows in Wisconsin.

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