Christmas in Wisconsin – Customs and Traditions

Looking across a frozen lake in Wisconsin

Wisconsin bears a unique cultural imprint due to its strong European influence. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Wisconsin drew many European settlers, particularly from Scandinavia and Germany. This heritage remains vibrant, notably in culinary traditions, featuring popular dishes like Kringle and Bratwurst. Notably, the region boasts several UNESCO World Heritage sites, inviting visitors to explore its rich offerings. The Christmas season draws crowds from across the state and worldwide, creating a festive atmosphere that captivates numerous visitors.

Christmas customs and traditions in Wisconsin

Christmas traditions and customs in Wisconsin vary across the state, offering diverse experiences during this festive period. The enthusiasm for Christmas is palpable throughout the region, with different areas showcasing unique traditions.

Interacting with locals from various parts of the state adds to the richness of the celebrations. Wisconsin’s history, rooted in native tribes, enhances the exceptional atmosphere of this season. Here are some prevalent Christmas customs in the state.

Christmas lights in Wisconsin

The streets of Wisconsin come alive with thousands of lights, adorning shops with silver snowflakes, velvet bows, and wreaths of holly and pine. This tradition illuminates different parts of the state, offering an enchanting experience for visitors.

Christmas Kringle in Wisconsin

The Kringle holds a special place in Wisconsin’s identity and has garnered widespread recognition. It serves as the official pastry of the state and becomes a highlight during Christmas. Bakeries across the region deliver these unique pastries to customers, fostering conversations and joyful moments.


The tradition of preparing Stollen, a yeast bread originating from Germany, marks the Christmas festivities in Wisconsin. With Germanic traditions deeply embedded in the state, this bread promises a delightful and distinctive taste. Varieties of Stollen, enriched with nuts, dried fruits, candies, and spices, can be found across different regions. The bread is often adorned with powdered sugar and butter.

The German immigrants brought this cherished tradition to the region, resulting in unique variations across bakeries in Wisconsin. Exploring specialty bakeries allows visitors to savor diverse renditions, showcasing ingredients like citrus peel or marzipan, contributing to the richness of the holiday experience.

Tom and Jerry

Contrary to what might come to mind, Tom and Jerry is not a cartoon but a popular holiday drink served in Wisconsin. Invented in the 1800s as a promotional beverage, it has evolved into a cherished Christmas tradition in the state.

This cocktail, akin to eggnog, places emphasis on alcohol, spices, and eggs. Served hot, the drink incorporates a light and fluffy batter created by well-beaten eggs, offering variations across different parts of Wisconsin.

Brandy slush

Found commonly across various regions of the state, the origin of Brandy Slush remains a mystery. This unique cocktail is a beloved favorite among Wisconsinites, and exploring different areas to sample this drink is essential during your visit. The sugared brandy combined with orange-lemon zest creates a texture that is both sweet and refreshing, offering a distinct and enjoyable experience.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or returning, sharing this drink with locals allows for a deeper connection to the region’s unique offerings. Depending on the region, the slush might comprise sugar, water, orange and lemon juice concentrate, and your preferred brandy, allowing for customization to suit individual tastes.

Candlelight stroll in Wisconsin

Another prevalent tradition in Wisconsin during the holiday season is the Candlelight Stroll. This magical experience leads participants through candle-lit streets, often accompanied by local shops offering their goods at reduced prices.

This creates an opportunity to not only enjoy the enchanting ambiance but also sample local dishes and products from the area.

Aluminum Christmas trees in Wisconsin

A unique feature across various parts of Wisconsin, aluminum Christmas trees are predominantly produced in Manitowoc during the holiday season. Initially popular in the space age era, production significantly declined in the ’70s. However, a resurgence has occurred, delighting locals with diverse decorations.

These trees can be customized and decorated according to individual tastes, offering over 40 styles, colors, and sizes. An annual Thanksgiving ceremony marks the availability of these vintage trees, ensuring there’s something to suit everyone’s preference.

Sample dishes from the “We Energies” cookie book

For over a century, We Energies has distributed editions of their cookie book, initially as a means to sell electrified ovens. Over time, this tradition has deeply rooted itself in the state’s Christmas celebrations.

The cookie book has become a cherished part of Wisconsin’s holiday tradition, with recipes tested by employees before inclusion.

St. Nicholas day

An important holiday tradition in Wisconsin, St. Nicholas Day offers an exceptional experience for visitors to the state. This tradition, common in various European countries, particularly resonates in areas with Germanic backgrounds. Unlike other parts of the United States, Wisconsin upholds St. Nicholas Day as a significant holiday.

On December 5th, children often place wooden shoes and stockings, anticipating gifts from Saint Nicholas. Presents typically include fruits, coins, candies, and small toys. This enduring tradition promises an incredible experience for those visiting Wisconsin during this festive period.

Cheese balls in Wisconsin

In various parts of Wisconsin, cheeseballs stand as a common Christmas tradition that has experienced a revival in recent times. These savory delights perfectly complement charcuterie boards and have become increasingly popular across the state. Available as pre-made cheese balls, they’ve become a staple in various local celebrations.

Cannibal sandwich in Wisconsin

Another prevalent dish during the holiday season in Wisconsin is the cannibal sandwich. Made from raw beef and onions on rye bread, this menu item is particularly popular during Christmas. Large quantities of beef are ground for this purpose, allowing visitors to indulge in this local delicacy.

Depending on the region, it might be known as steak tartare or tiger meat. It’s crucial to source high-quality ground beef from reputable sources due to the risks associated with consuming raw meat.

Christmas Trees in Wisconsin

The tradition of decorating Christmas trees, prevalent in various parts of Wisconsin, traces its roots back to the early 17th century, primarily in Europe. In the state’s capital, Madison, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies mark the beginning of this tradition.

Locals often visit local forests or farms to cut their own evergreen trees, allowing children to decorate them according to their preferences.

Christmas dishes in Wisconsin

Christmas in Wisconsin is characterized by joyous activities, including indulgence in various traditional dishes. Lutefisk, a preserved codfish in lye, is a notable dish found in the state.

Pickled herring is also commonly enjoyed during this festive period. Germanic families savor glazed ham, while turkey or goose feasts are widespread across various regions, marking a significant part of the state’s culinary traditions.


Learn more about the different Christmas traditions in 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.