By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Nov 19, 2020 at 2:01 PM

The pandemic won't stop Milwaukee from powering up this holiday season as the city's annual Holiday Lights Festival announced it will flip the switch on the bright winter tradition on Nov. 19.

Running through New Year's Day, the Holiday Lights Festival will use more than 500,000 lights to transform three Downtown parks into "Community Spirit Park" (Cathedral Square Park), "Tinsel Town Express" (Pere Marquette Park) and "Polar Plaza" (Zeidler Union Square) as well as deck the halls of three Downtown streets, including brightly lighting a 18-block drag of Wisconsin Avenue with festive cheer.

The festival will also include several new window displays, featuring more than 25 famous Brew City celebs represented in four decorated Downtown storefronts: 324 E. Wisconsin Ave., 205 E. Wisconsin Ave., 400 E. Wisconsin Ave. and 733-737 N. Milwaukee St. Anothew new element of the annual tradition will be "Jingle Joy Boxes," grab-and-go gift boxes featuring items from local businesses, available for $15 via a social distanced drive-thru at Zeidler Union Square from 5:30-8:30 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays between Dec. 3-19.

“The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival will continue to deliver the joy of the holiday season while keeping our residents and visitors safe,” said Beth Weirick, CEO of Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21, in a release. “Though we have pivoted slightly from the events locals have come to know and love, this year’s virtual and ‘snowcially distanced’ version will carry on the tradition of making spirits bright.”

One of those pandemic-induced pivots for this year's edition includes postponing the popular kick-off event in Pere Marquette Park, replacing the in-person gathering with a special broadcast on WISN 12, featuring festive performances and unique displays, on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 6:30 p.m.

Another COVID-influenced change for this year's Holiday Lights Festival: The Jingle Bus will be left in Santa's garage this year, as tours of the Downtown light displays will switch to either virtual or self-guided options. The map and audio for self-guided tours will be available at the Holiday Lights Festival's website in November. 

Not all of the traditions are changing this year, however. Children will still be able to write letters to Santa – and receive a personalized response – by using Santa's Mailbox in Cathedral Square Park from Nov. 2 through Dec. 6, and there will still be a new annual Holiday Lights Festival ornament, this year created by local artist Andrew Schumann and starring the Hoan Bridge as its featured landmark. The new ornaments will be on sale at Milwaukee Downtown's website for $19.95.

For more information on the Holiday Lights Festival, click here. And stay tuned to OnMilwaukee for more festive cheer this unusual year.


Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.