It’s December, which means the holidays are in full swing. Which can be a drag. There’s a lot of pressure to get in the so-called “holiday spirit” this time of year, and with things like jobs, bills, and the impending end of Western civilization cluttering up our days, it can be downright hard to get with the holly jolly program. Happily, we’ve assembled a solid list of 13 things to do in Milwaukee that are guaranteed to put you in the holiday mood. To paraphrase Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation, this is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday-spirit list. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest holidays since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. Hallelujah! Holy shit! (Where’s the Tylenol?)
Milwaukee’s dreams of high-speed rail may be long dashed, but that doesn’t mean its downtown Amtrak Depot is bereft of joy this holiday season. On Monday, December 5, beginning at 6:50 p.m., the CP Holiday Train will make a half-hour stop in Milwaukee. The train will be decked out in hundreds of thousands of holiday lights, and will feature performances from musicians Kelly Prescott and Colin James. The show is free, though visitors are encouraged to bring nonperishable goods for local food pantries.
BMO Harris Bank (770 N. Water St.)
Every December, the downtown BMO Harris Bank puts the “fa la la la la” in “fa la la la la banking” with it’s beloved Holiday Display. More than 150 life-sized Steiff animals will once again populate the bank’s lobby this year, transforming it into “Holiday Busy Town.” The display is free and open to the public, and BMO will donate $5 to Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin for each visitor.
Pictures with a rosy-cheeked Santa are one thing—pictures with a decidedly creepy Santa are other. On Monday, December 19, from 6-11 p.m., Burnhearts will host its highly anticipated annual holiday party, complete with free food, “weird gifts,” and photo ops with, well, a creepy Santa (Christian Houtman). Even better, all profits from this year’s bash will go to Planned Parenthood.
Candy Cane Lane
No holiday season would be complete without a pilgrimage to West Allis’ beloved Candy Cane Lane. More than 300 houses between 96th Street and 92nd Street, and Montana Avenue and Oklahoma Avenue go all out every year with extravagant decorations and light shows. Visitors are invited to drive or walk through the neighborhood from 6-9 p.m. on weekdays, and from 5-10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The fun is free, though folks can make donations to neighbors in order to raise money for childhood cancer research. Since its beginnings in 1984, Candy Cane Lane has raised more than $1.6 million for the cause.
Cathedral Square Park
Downtown’s Cathedral Square Park isn’t just for Bastille Days and Jazz In The Park: For the bulk of the holiday season, the park is home to more than 75 trees decorated by local schools and nonprofits. Each tree in the so-called “Community Spirit Park” has a unique theme, making Cathedral Square one of the most diverse and inclusive holiday attractions in town.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016, Comet Cafe’s “Holiday Craptacular” is the weird-ass holiday blowout to end all weird-ass holiday blowouts. Drop in Tuesday, December 20 from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. for drink specials, raffle prizes (including 12 cases of Lakefront beer), and entertainment from the “illustrious and talented Comet staff.” Like Comet says, “YULE be sorry if you miss it!!!”
Some of Milwaukee’s finest musicians will take on a slew of big band holiday classics for Company Brewing’s “Home for the Holidays” show Friday, December 23. Augie Haas, Andrew Neesley, Jay Anderson, and Eric Schoor are just a few of the names involved. General admission tickets are $10, and are available here.
If you’re looking for more horsepower in your holiday fun, the Harley-Davidson Museum has you covered. Stop in December 11 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. for a special souped-up Breakfast with Santa, complete with pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and a photo op with a Hog-straddlin’ Saint Nick. Reservations are required, and can be made by calling 414-287-2778. On December 15, meanwhile, from 5-9 p.m., the museum is hosting its Holiday Bike Night. Attendees will be treated to a free Harley ornament, food and drink specials, live music from the Ryan McGrath Band, and specials at the museum’s gift shop.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Free live music in Windover Hall is MAM’s holiday weapon of choice this year. Stop by Saturday, December 10 at 1 p.m. for Festive Joy with Brioso; Sunday, December 11 at 12:15 p.m. for the Pius XI Madrigal Ensemble Holiday Concert; and Thursday, December 15 at 1 p.m. for the Spring City Brass Quintet. Still on the hunt for a unique gift? Local artist Kelli Busch will be signing her MAM commemorative ornament at the museum gift shop Friday, December 9 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Milwaukee County Zoo
Not a “breakfast with Santa” person? How about a “lunch with Santa” person? Milwaukee County Zoo has both options set for December 10-11, and 17-18. Breakfast is served at 9 a.m. on Saturdays only, while lunch is at noon on both Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets, which include zoo admission (but not parking) are $20 per kid or adult. Children 2 and under are $6. Make your reservations here.
Milwaukee Public Museum
MPM’s recently revamped Streets of Old Milwaukee are currently done up for the holidays, and will remain done up through January 29. (“Think wreaths, ribbons, garland, holly, bell pulls and more!” says MPM.) For a more concentrated blast of holiday cheer, stop by the museum on Sunday, December 19, from 8-11 a.m. for Breakfast with Santa. Tickets, which include museum admission, are $24 for adults and $12 for children 3-12. Kids 2 and under are free. Spots can be reserved until December 6 by calling 414-278-2728.
If you’re hanging out at the Pfister Hotel and aren’t busy being haunted by the vengeful spirits of the dead (and/or vengeful door chains), you can always sit down for Breakfast with Santa December 10 and 17, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Tickets are $45 for adults, and $20 for children 3-10. Kids 2 and under are free. And don’t forget the annual Christmas Celebration Brunch, December 25 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets are $60 for adults, and $20 for children 3-10. Kids 2 and under are free. Reservations for both events can be made by calling 877-704-5340 or 414-935-5950.