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The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival is back, big and bright

The tradeoff with everything getting darker earlier (lousy daylight saving time) is that it gives us more time to enjoy twinkly lights and over-the-top holiday displays. This year, you’ll be able to do that at three downtown parks as the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival returns for its 24th installment from Nov. 17 through Jan. 1. 

Presented by Johnson Financial Group, the festival includes more than half a million lights and another couple dozen animated displays setting Milwaukee aglow with enough cheer to make the grinchiest grinch’s heart grow four … maybe even five sizes. And it’ll happen at a trio of sites transformed into a trio of themed scenes:

  • Cathedral Square Park will become “Community Spirit Park” sponsored by Madison Medical Affiliates.
  • Pere Marquette Park will host the “Christmas Chalet.”
  • Zeidler Union Square will turn into “Santa’s Celebration Square powered by WE Energies,” whose generosity got it a place inside the quotation marks.

The halo of holiday-ness isn’t confined to the parks, either. You’ll find even more decorations up and down three downtown streets, including an 18-block stretch along Wisconsin Avenue.

With all of that going on, you think they’ll just flip a switch without any fanfare? Heck no! On Thursday, Nov. 17, the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Kickoff Extravaganza goes down at Pere Marquette Park starting at 5 p.m. The party includes:

  • A visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus
  • Entertainment by DJ Shawna, Vertical Essence, Dance Academy of Mexico, cast members from “Black Nativity,” Jenny Thiel, Donna Woodall, Sarah Fierek and St. Michael’s Ukrainian Choir
  • A fireworks ceremony
  • Free cocoa and cookies from DoubleTree Hilton
  • A rather mysterious promise of “sensational feats” 

It all leads up to the switch being flipped at 6:30 p.m. After that, the Jingle Bus will offer free rides around downtown so you can check out every inch of the decorations. Throughout the festival, the bus will run its 40-minute narrated tours every Thursday through Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve/Day and New Year’s Eve/Day). It’s $5 per person, and pre-booking is required.
The entire thing is coordinated by Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21. For more information on the festival, the extravaganza, the bus tours and more, visit the Milwaukee Downtown website.