Metrowide Holiday Guide—from the goofy to the sublime

Penumbra Theater


Once again, and maybe even more so, the Twin Cities is heaving with winter-themed, holiday-ized markets, activities and cultural flowerings to enhance your mood and social standing as the days darken. As usual, we will focus on both grand traditions and iconoclastic takedowns, and privilege the small, the local and the simple over the blaring voices of capitalist consumption. Well, somebody has to! In markets and fairs this year, the big new thing is breweries and distilleries as hosts. I don’t know why small businesses that make beer, cider, wine and spirits feel that it’s their social duty to host all manner of culturally uplifting or politically savvy events. I suppose they may just be doing it as a clever way to promote their product? But I think it’s more enlightened than that. You know, it reminds me of one of my favorite William Blake poem, “The Little Vagabond,” which contrasts the cold and forbidding church with the warm and convivial alehouse:
But if at the Church they would give us some Ale.
And a pleasant fire, our souls to regale;
We’d sing and we’d pray, all the live-long day;
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray …
And thus, now it has come to pass, that in Minnesota, the brewery taproom is the new church basement. Just go with it.
So anyway, here to start off with, some holiday markets and fairs. There is a newish umbrella organization called Minneapolis Craft Markets that partners with Linden Hills Farmers Market and a whole bunch of local craft brewers, among others, to coordinate craft and art markets throughout the year. A couple of notable ones for the season are the ongoing Plate and Parcel, in Wegner’s Garden Center of Linden Hills, which runs most days from 11/2 to 12/22, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the greenhouse, and the one-time Yard and Yarn Fiber Arts Market in the Textile Center at 3000 University Ave. SE, 11/16, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Check out their event page online at to see loads more, including Holiday Spirits at Royal Foundry Craft Spirits, the Hygge Holiday Markets at Lawless Distilling, and the craft markets in Loring Park as part of Holidazzle. Another web page to check is where you’ll find such gems as the Chowgirls at Solar Arts market (on the third floor above Indeed Brewing), the Northeast Winter Markets (two before holidays, plus four after the holidays). The Northeast market will feature music on vinyl by The Ring Toss Twins, prepared foods, local beer and Bloody Mary bar, monthly kids activities and a variety of local vendors. A cool-sounding one-time event is La Dona Cerveceria Brewery Taproom’s Handmade for the Holidays on 11/24 at noon. Plus find even more craft markets at Lakes & Legends, Utepils, Pryes Brewing, Lawless Distilling, Modist Brewing, and Sociable Ciderwerks.

Hygge Holiday Market at Lawless Distilling

Of course, we must mention the southside tradition of Walker Church Holiday Art Fair, this year falling on Saturday 11/23, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday 11/24, noon to 4 p.m. Come and see your beloved writer (me) at the new Walker Church Peace with Justice table, where I’ll be selling slavery-free chocolate, fair-trade olive oil, coffee and dates, and authentic Ojibwe harvested wild rice. Another way to benefit charities is to shop at the Nicollet Island Pavilion MN Christmas Market, where sales benefit children in need, 11/17, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. And then there’s another tradition in the suburbs, the Excelsior Christkindlmarkt, a German-style market/fair, which is a three-day affair from 11/29 through 12/1, at various times. (See Facebook

“It’s a Wonderful Life” in St. Paul

The theater offerings this year are so numerous we had to pick and choose. (These are greatly condensed, so you may need to look up addresses, times, etc., and are more or less chronologically presented.) Brave New Workshop Theatre presents “Getting Plowed: A Holiday Survival Guide,” 11/7 through Jan. 2020, tickets $25 – $49. HUGE Improv Theater presents “Family Dinner,” an audience participation improv, every Saturday at 8 p.m. from 11/2 to 12/28.
The Guthrie Theatre presents “A Christmas Carol,” 11/12 through 12/29, at various times, tickets $15 – $134. The Jungle Theater presents “Miss Bennett,” an original play featuring the characters of “Pride and Prejudice,” but several years later, from 11/20 through 12/29, including some matinees. Penumbra Theatre presents “Black Nativity” (written by Langston Hughes, directed by Lou Bellamy, featuring tons of local singing and dancing talent) running 11/21 through 12/22, various times, tickets $15 to $40. Theater Latte Da presents “All Is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914,” running 11/27 through 12/22, 7:30 p.m. or 2 p.m., tickets start at $33. And finally, a lesser known company—so we’re including contact info. Dark & Stormy Productions at the Grain Belt Warehouse presents “The Norwegians,” which obviously owes a debt to the film “Fargo.” Two southern girls in Minnesota hire local hitmen to kill their husbands, but the hitmen are just too nice! Runs 12/5 through 1/5/2020, various times. Go to for tickets and more.
Here are some more things that are sort of theater but maybe something different. In the dance realm, it’s still dominated entirely by Nutcrackers. The Orpheum Theatre presents the “Great Russian Nutcracker” with the Moscow Ballet, on 12/6 at 7 p.m., or 12/7 with two shows at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets $33-$103. The State Theater presents Minnesota Dance Theatre’s beloved holiday tradition, Loyce Houlton’s “Nutcracker Fantasy” from 12/13 to 12/23 at various times, tickets $30 – $75. And Ballet Minnesota presents its 32nd annual “The Classic Nutcracker” from 12/13 through 12/15 at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium in St. Paul, with afternoon and evening shows priced from $21 – $46. The Cowles Center has a hybrid music/theater kind of thing: “Who Brought the Humbug?” with Ricci Milan + Rhythm Street Movement. This is described as a holiday show with music and dance. Runs 12/5 through 12/15, all shows at 7:30 p.m., tickets start at $25. At the Saint Paul Hotel (only for the well-heeled) there is a presentation of “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a live radio play plus very fancy lunch or dinner. This runs various dates from 12/5 to 12/24. Lunch performances are 1 p.m. for $79 and up, and dinners at either 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. for $95 and up. If this is too much for you, but you really need this film, Orchestra Hall is presenting “It’s a Wonderful Life” live in concert twice—12/21 at 8 p.m., or 12/22 at 2 p.m., with tickets starting at “only” $35. But this is a screening of the film with live score and chorus by the Minnesota Orchestra and the Minnesota Chorale.

Six the Musical

The music category is especially rich this year. Again, these are condensed, but all details are easily obtainable online by searching on the venue name. Mystic Lake Casino Hotel hosts Mannheim Steamroller on 11/15 at 8 p.m., tickets start at $39. The State Theater presents the “Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas Rocks” show with the Imaginaries. This show is produced by SiriusXM on 11/15 at 8 p.m.; tickets start at $53.50. At the Ames Center in Burnsville, you can catch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical” on 11/26-27; “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Wild and Swinging Holiday Party” on 12/4; Michael Londra’s “Celtic Yuletide” on 12/5; “Tonic Sol-fa: The Nights Before Christmas Tour” on 12/17 or “Rhythmic Circus: Holiday Shuffle” on 12/21. (We don’t know what any of those are, but they’re reasonably priced.) The Ordway is presenting a stunner: “Six,” a musical about the wives of Henry VIII. This had a phenomenal run in the U.K., then went on to Chicago and Cambridge. See it in Saint Paul before it goes on to Broadway, 11/29 through 12/22, with tickets starting at just $40. See for more.
Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall presents Handel’s “Messiah” on 12/6 and 12/7 at 8 p.m., with tickets $12 to $135. The Target Center hosts Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, with Marc Martel on 12/6 at 7:30 p.m., tickets $33 – $78.
The Hook and Ladder Theatre and Lounge presents “Trailer Trash—A Trashy Little Xmas Show,” 12/7 at 8 p.m., tickets at the Hook website. VocalEssence at Orchestra Hall (and other venues) is presenting “Welcome Christmas: Nordic and American Carols.” Shows are 12/7 and 12/13 at 7:30 p.m., 12/8 and 12/15 at 4 p.m., tickets through Orchestra Hall for $12 and up. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Orchestra Hall hosts “Big Band Holidays” with Wynton Marsalis on 12/13 at 8 p.m., tickets $55 to $143. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra at the Ordway presents “Bach—the Brandenburg Concertos” on 12/14 at 8 p.m., tickets $30 to $50. And finally, the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul presents the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the multi-platinum, critically-acclaimed progressive rock group, with its highly-anticipated “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” Winter Tour based on the triple-platinum album of the same name, 12/28, two shows, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., tickets $37 to $77.
Finally, we offer you two choices at the American Swedish Institute and one interesting New Year’s Eve party. At the ASI, there is Julmarknad—Festival and Market, two days, 12/7 at 10 a.m. and 12/8 at 11 a.m. This features handcrafted items for sale by nearly 55 talented local and regional artists, alongside performances, family make ‘n’ take crafts and festival food. Enjoy special music and dance performances throughout the Mansion from Nordic groups. Or you can join their Winter Solstice Celebration on 12/20 by getting advance tickets through Eventbrite. (See for details.) The NYE event is “A Roaring 2020 New Year’s Eve” at the Metropolitan Ballroom (Hwy 100 at I-394). See Facebook for that too at

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