The holidays are hectic, and squeezing in one more thing often seems impossible. But sometimes even a small diversion can replenish and revive your holiday spirit.
Whether you're looking for a quick day trip or a weekend away, here are some festive options around the state this season.
Run, run, reindeer
Classic: Work off those Thanksgiving calories at Milwaukee's Drumstick Dash 5K, held Thursday at Miller Park. The race raises money and collects nonperishable food items for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, and runners who donate can also win turkey, pies and other raffle prizes.
Quirky: Strip down to your finest swimwear for the Madison Santa Swimsuit Run, Dec. 5. More than 500 brave (foolish?) souls are expected to dash three laps around the Capitol wearing nothing but swimming suits and festive accessories to raise money for two area children's charities.
Off the beaten path: Looking for a true test of winter hardiness? Run, bike or ski the Tuscobia State Trail during the Tuscobia Winter Ultra, a mostly self-supported marathon with options for 150-mile, 75-mile or 35-mile races. The 75-mile trail is one of the longest rail-to-trail routes in the state, and the 150-mile race traverses its entire length from Park Falls to Rice Lake. Races are held Jan. 8-10.
Deck the halls
Classic: A beloved holiday ballet comes to life at The Paine Art Center and Gardens, 1410 Algoma Blvd., Oshkosh, during Nutcracker in the Castle. Through Jan. 4, rooms throughout the historic mansion are decorated to recreate scenes from the Nutcracker, while special tours with costumed guides and youth ballet performances add to the magic. Visitors can also take a self-guided tour by electric candlelight on select nights. Call (920) 235-6903 for tour times and ticket prices.
Quirky: The House on the Rock, 5754 State Road 23, Spring Green, reaches a new level of quirkiness during the holidays, when more than 6,000 collectible Santas are set among kitsch at this 200-acre property perched atop a chimney rock near Spring Green. Tours of the former home of architect Alex Jordan are offered Mondays and Thursdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 26, and daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 27-Jan. 4. Call (608) 935-3639 for more.
Off the beaten path: Forget bumping elbows at crowded shopping malls and do a little window shopping in Ripon, where businesses create living window displays in their storefronts during the city's Dickens of a Christmas celebration, Dec. 4-6. The weekend also includes a living nativity scene, decorated Christmas trees in an enchanted forest, a tour of homes and live music.
Strings of street lights
Classic: For more than 20 years, Candy Cane Lane has embodied the Christmas spirit, with more than 300 residents decorating their West Allis homes to raise money for Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer. Red-and-white striped trees mark the 20 blocks of lighted homes, while volunteers at the corner of 95th St. and Manitoba St. collect donations for the nonprofit. Drive through the displays Nov. 27-Dec. 27.
Quirky: The cobblestone streets of Milwaukee's Miller Valley will pulse with a music-and-light display during MillerCoors Holiday Lites Tours. Visitors 21 and over can tour the MillerCoors facility, 4251 W. State St., enjoy free beer samples and take in the show, which includes lights timed to current and classic holiday hits. Tours are offered Fridays and Saturdays Dec. 4-19 from 4:40p.m. to 9 p.m.
Off the beaten path: More than 1 million lights fill Marshfield's Wildwood Zoo, 1800 S Roddis Ave., for the Rotary Winter Wonderland, Nov. 28-Dec. 31 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The free festival (donations welcome) also includes daily visits from Santa and free horse-drawn carriage rides.
Classic: Santa's always on board the Mid-Continent Railway Museum's Santa Express, which chugs through the Baraboo Hills Nov. 28-29. The nearly hour-long ride aboard steam- or coal-heated 1915 passenger cars includes a visit with the big guy and candy and a special gift for kids. Call (608) 522-4261 or see for more details.
Quirky: You'll want to arrive early for a ride on the East Troy Electric Railroad's Christmas Train, which departs for a 10-mile round-trip ride from the railroad's museum, 2002 Church St. in East Troy, to The Elegant Farmer, 1545 Main St. in Mukwonago, Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 28 through Dec. 20. Look out for special guests — perhaps Santa and his reindeer? — and warm up with hot chocolate at the depot after your ride. Call (262) 642-3263 for times and ticket prices.
Off the beaten path: You can't ride the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, but it's just as fun watching it pass by. Every year the train is decked out in lights and travels across Canada and the U.S. to raise money and collect food for local nonprofits. On-board musicians provide added entertainment. Catch the train when it stops in Sturtevant, Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, Hartland and Columbus on Dec. 4; and Portage, Wisconsin Dells, Mauston, Tomah, Sparta and La Crosse on Dec. 5. The train is lighted for its entire journey, so you may be able to catch a glimpse as it travels from one stop to another.
Toys in every store
Classic: Unique, handcrafted gifts abound at the Osthoff Resort's Old World Christmas Market, held Dec. 4-13 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Artisans from around the country and the globe travel to Elkhart Lake to sell their wares, from German woodcarvers to Czech glass artists. Visitors can also refuel at the market's food court, featuring a variety of ethnic foods. The market is modeled after the famous Christkindlesmarkt held in Nuremberg, Germany, since the mid 17th-century. The resort also holds special events on select weekends, including breakfast with Santa, holiday hayrides and Christmas decorating and ornament making workshops. Call (877) 517-4596 for more.
Quirky: With more than 200 dealers, the Columbus Antique Mall, 239 Whitney St., Columbus, is stocked with gifts ranging from the awesomely aged variety — old signs, beautiful glassware and vintage ornaments — to the what-the-? variety — creepy masks, absurd figurines and questionable candy. Shop in November for specials on pottery and china or December for discounts on wood and furniture. The mall is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Off the beaten path: Make a personalized gift at Hands On Art Studio, 3655 Peninsula Players Road, Fish Creek. Pay the studio fee ($7) and choose from a variety of projects, including jewelry, ceramics and fused glass ranging from $10 to $40. The studio is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday in the winter. Every Friday from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. is Adult Night, when those 21 and older can bring in food and beverages to enjoy while creating their masterpieces.
Happy golden days of yore
Classic: Celebrate Christmas like Wisconsin's early European settlers during An Old World Christmas at Old World Wisconsin, W372-S9727 Highway 67, Eagle. The 19th-century Crossroads Village at this living history museum is decked out for the holidays Dec. 5-6 and Dec. 12-13 and visitors can take part in Christmas traditions of the past including caroling, holiday treats and crafts. The museum also hosts an Old World Holiday Breakfast and a Scottish Holiday Dinner those weekends.
Quirky: Visitors to the Milwaukee Public Museum can hardly miss the giant humpback whale skeleton hanging over the museum's grand staircase. The whale is even more noticable around the holidays, when the museum decorates it with thousands of lights. The lighting ceremony takes place at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 27.
Off the beaten path: Embrace Wisconsin's Norwegian heritage at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center's Old Fashioned Christmas, Dec. 5-6. Tour the wood-heated log cabins at the center, N455 O. Ophus Road, Coon Valley, to see artisans spin, carve and bake, plus enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides, crafts for the kids, Norwegian goodies like lefse and meatballs, music and more. If you're looking for a live Christmas tree, the center has firs for sale. Call (608) 452-3424 for more.
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