Christmas In Iowa – Customs and Traditions

Snow on branches in Iowa.

The state of Iowa, situated in the Upper Midwestern region of the United States, embraces a tapestry of Christmas traditions influenced by its neighboring states and communities.

The largest metropolitan hub, Des Moines, is an integral part of the broader Omaha and Nebraska region. Iowa stands out as a highly regarded place to live, renowned for its safety and the welcoming nature of its residents.

The festive period in Iowa witnesses a blend of traditions, some rooted in European customs and others borne from contemporary innovations. As Christmas unfolds, you’ll encounter a rich tapestry of customs and celebrations that bring warmth and joy to the hearts of Iowans and visitors alike.

Christmas customs and traditions in Iowa

Christmas brings vibrancy to the state of Iowa, where people actively engage in various events leading up to Christmas Day. Shopping, house decorations, and festive adornments in public squares create a spirited atmosphere across the region. Here are some of the cherished customs and traditions in Iowa during this season:

Holiday lights display in Iowa

The dazzling holiday lights display stands out as a quintessential tradition across Iowa during Christmas. From town squares to rural landscapes, vibrant hues of red, green, and blue illuminate buildings and public spaces. Communities across Iowa embrace this tradition, offering a perfect chance to interact with locals and witness the stunning brilliance of Christmas lights.

The state’s main streets, local parks, homes, and public squares all come alive with radiant displays. Exploring the enchanting city-wide light displays can be done on foot or by driving around, offering a breathtaking experience.

Cultural Christmas events in Iowa

Iowa stands as an exceptional destination during the festive season, adorned with lights and snow-covered landscapes. Manning, known for its Germanic traditions, hosts the Weihnachtsfest, featuring a Christmas parade, Santa’s arrival, and family entertainment. Beyond Germanic traditions, Danish villages like Kimballton or Elk Horn host Yulefest celebrations, adding to the rich tapestry of Iowa’s holiday traditions.

Decorah’s Norwegian Christmas event is a significant tradition where locals gather around Christmas trees for music, singing, and delightful smores.


Iowa’s diverse cultural landscape reflects its European influences, where traditions like Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, are celebrated in early December. Witnessing the celebration during your visit reveals Dutch games, a white horse parade, puppet shows, and holiday shopping, offering a delightful immersion into local European festivities. Embracing these outdoor festivities becomes integral in experiencing the cultural tapestry and heritage of Iowa’s communities.

Christmas markets in Iowa

These markets are a prominent feature of the state, bustling with activity during the festive season. Iowa’s markets offer a wide array of items, from souvenirs to Christmas essentials. You’ll find arts, crafts, carolers, and enticing food trucks spread across the state, making it an ideal starting point for your Christmas shopping.


Similar to Christmas markets but with a focus on European culture, Christkindlmarkt is a 700-year-old tradition prevalent across Iowa. You’ll encounter booths selling handcrafted, artisanal, and unique products not found elsewhere. This presents a perfect opportunity to engage with locals, witness the area’s dynamics, and savor authentic German foods like candied nuts and bratwursts.

Live music, dances, caroling, and other delightful Christmas activities are part of this charming tradition.

Christmas gifts in Iowa

Gifting traditions have persisted for centuries in the United States. Iowa offers an incredible experience for choosing legendary gifts for friends and family. Unique artisanal products and customized gifts make Iowa stand out. From cribbage boards to handcrafted kaleidoscopes and an assortment of wooden toys, the area boasts a variety of options including jewelry, ornaments, home décor, apparel, candles, and soaps.

Christmas excursion in Iowa

Local communities actively engage in Christmas excursions. Take a train ride through the scenic Valley Railroad during your visit to Iowa. This winter adventure provides a unique perspective on life and showcases the state’s attractions.

Embark on the Santa Express train journey, where you’ll explore different regions, witness illuminated homes, brightly lit streets, and even meet Santa Claus. It’s an unforgettable experience to cherish with friends and family amidst the festive celebrations.

Christmas movies in Iowa

A long-standing tradition in Iowa, going to the movies during Christmas is a common activity. Whether with friends or family, it’s a perfect opportunity to explore the local environment and enjoy various Christmas-themed movies showcased in theaters across the state.

Christmas-themed clothing in Iowa

During the festive season in Iowa, interacting with people from diverse backgrounds is an enriching experience. It’s a time when Midwestern customs and traditions shine, notably seen through the widespread tradition of wearing Christmas-themed clothing. People often dress in red and white resembling Santa or wear clothes adorned with festive decorations.

Christmas tree in Iowa

The Christmas tree tradition, brought by European settlers to America, has firmly rooted itself across the nation, including Iowa. Christmas trees are abundant in the state, and many opt to visit tree farms or forests during the season to select and cut their own. Decorating these trees with various ornaments and lights is a cherished tradition for many in the region.

Christmas dinner in Iowa

Iowa’s diverse population, comprising many from European backgrounds, celebrates Christmas with its unique culinary delights. Oyster stew, a common dish during this period, particularly among the Scandinavian communities, stands out. Far more than just salted gelatinous fish, the Scandinavians prepare it in a unique, delightful manner that leaves a lasting impression.

Christmas pickle in Iowa

The Christmas pickle, a prevalent theme around Iowa, offers a unique and delightful activity to enjoy while traveling across the state. It involves placing a pickle on the Christmas tree, and the child who discovers it earns the privilege to open the first Christmas present. Witnessing this tradition during your visit to Iowa offers a glimpse into the region’s charming customs.

Iowa provides an exceptional Christmas experience, offering opportunities to engage with local customs and traditions. It’s a chance to explore ancient European practices and those stemming from Native American heritage, making your visit to the state a rich cultural experience.


How is Christmas celebrated in the neighboring states?

Aurimas Bio

Hi there! I’m Aurimas, a man behind Go Look Explore. I’m passionate about hiking, exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations, and everything outdoors related. Let’s connect.