As an expat, there’s not many typical American ‘holidays’ that I celebrate, we don’t have Thanksgiving or the 4th of July in England and Halloween is no where near on the same scale that it is here! HOWEVER, I have spent my whole life celebrating Christmas! So here are some Dubuque Christmas events in East Iowa that you should check out this year!
Dubuque Christmas Lights & Events 2020
*Some Christmas events have been cancelled in 2020 due to the current global situation*
Reflections In The Park
Location: Louis Murphy Park, Dubuque, IA
Dates: 26th Nov 2020 – 3rd Jan 2021 5pm to 10pm
Reflections in the Park is a drive through Christmas light display that happens in Louis Murphy Park each year. It is put on by Hillcrest Family Services to raise money for their programs. Entry is $10 per vehicle and every visitor receives a candy cane.
To get you in the Christmas spirit, they give you a radio station to tune into which plays Christmas music as you drive around the park. A lot of the lights represent different local companies that have donated to the display. Because of this, there’s a lot of unique shaped lights that you might not necessarily see on regular private home displays!
This is a great event on cold December evenings because you get to experience it from the warmth of your own car!
Related Reading: Reflections in the Park Dubuque: Drive Thru Christmas Light Display!
Christmas Candle Walk
Location: Fenelon Place Elevator, 4th and Bluff St, Dubuque, IA
If you want to see some other Christmas lights in Dubuque, even though the Fenelon Place Elevator shuts down from November for the winter season, you’ll still find Christmas lights around the lower station and decorations up the hill alongside the track! There’ll be Christmas music and lights and Mr and Mrs Claus take a trip down the Fenelon Place Elevator to greet waiting children at the bottom! It’s nice to see this Dubuque icon embracing the Christmas spirit too!
Hotel Julien Dubuque: Tree Lighting Ceremony & Breakfast With Santa
Location: 200 Main Street, Dubuque, IA 52001
Dates: Tree Lighting Ceremony – Wed 2nd Dec 2020 5.30pm to 7.30pm, Breakfast With Santa – Sat 5th Dec 2020 8am to 11am
The Hotel Julien is not only a lovely hotel, but during the lead up to Christmas, they often hold various Christmas events. In 2020, they are holding a tree lighting ceremony in their lobby which includes music, hot chocolate and kids can meet Santa Claus.
On Saturday December 5th, is the Breakfast with Santa event! This jammed packed event starts at 8am and runs until 11am with breakfast being served at 9am. Santa makes a second appearance at the Hotel Julien and kids can join in with cookie decorating, Christmas crafts, stories and music.
The event costs $16 for adults and $9.50 for children. HOWEVER children eat free with a donation of a new toy for the Toys For Tots Foundation. Reservations for this Dubuque Christmas event are recommended.
Related Reading: A Stay at the Hotel Julien – Dubuque, IA
A Merry Millwork Market
Location: 10th & Washington Street, Dubuque, IA 52001
Dates: CANCELLED IN 2020
The Millwork Night Market started as a bit of an extension to the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market, giving people a second chance to buy fresh local ingredients and crafts. The night market stops in the winter but opens again for 2 days as the Merry Millwork Market and is a fun Dubuque Christmas event!
The market takes place in the Schimid Innovation Centre courtyard, but this year it is expanding out onto the surrounding streets as well! There are local craft and food vendors offering various items for sale. Last year I bought a Christmas themed drink from Inspire Cafe and a bowl of soup from Brazen Kitchen! It’s not quite the same as a European Christmas Market BUT warm food is always a must and the Merry Millwork Market definitely ticks this box!
They have a tree lighting ceremony on the Friday night, as well as visits from Santa (the line was HUGE last year!), activities for children and live music entertainment. I love the Millwork District so it’s a great excuse to visit this area of town!
Scuba Diving Santa at the Mississippi River Museum
Location: 350 East 3rd Street, Port of Dubuque, Iowa 52001
For an hour each day during one weekend in December, Santa goes scuba diving in the Gulf of Mexico tank at the National Mississippi River Museum! Visitors can have pictures in front of the aquarium with Santa posing in the background!
Santa’s Getaway at the Grand Harbor Resort
Location: 350 Bell Street, Dubuque, IA 52001
I got to experience the Santa’s Getaway event at the Grand Harbor Resort for the past 2 years! Not does your room rate include the room and 4 tickets to the waterpark, you’ll also receive a $25 coupon to use in the Tony Roma’s on-site restaurant, but Santa and his elf will visit your hotel room! He brings milk and cookies and a bag of tokens to use on the machines in the arcade! Rooms start at $129pn.
Mathias Ham Historic Site: ‘Home For The Holidays’
Location: 2241 Lincoln Ave, Dubuque, IA 52001
The Mathias Ham Historic Site was built in 1856 by the Dubuque Entrepreneur, Mathias Ham (you can also see his grave in the Linwood Cemetery). The site is run by the Dubuque County Historical Society. The Ham House shuts for the winter season but it opens up during weekends in December for the ‘Christmas At The Ham House’ event.
I attended this event last year and as far as I’m aware, it’s coming back in 2018! Each weekend had a different theme. I went to ‘Christmas By Hand’ which showed how the house would have been decorated during the Christmas season and the types of traditions that family would have had.
The house was decorated in a similar style to a Victorian Christmas with lots of European influences. You can tour the house and there are interpreters dressed up in old fashioned clothes that are stationed in various rooms, giving you information about the history of the Ham House.
Downstairs in the basement, you could make Christmas decorations, similar to those that the family would have decorated the house with, such as pine cones and paper chains. Entrance also includes hot chocolate and cookies! I also saw Christmas carollers during my visit!
Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
*Please Note* The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train is not stopping in Dubuque in 2019. The closest locations to Dubuque in 2019 are Marquette, Clinton or Davenport, all around 1hr 15 from Dubuque
Location: Not stopping in Dubuque in 2020
Date: CANCELLED IN 2020
The best thing about the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, is that it’s free! If you’ve ever seen the Coca Cola ‘Holidays Are Coming’ Christmas advert, it’s like the real version of that but with a train rather than trucks! The train is covered in Christmas lights and each year it does a tour of the USA and Canada. Every other year it makes a stop in Dubuque!
In 2016 it stopped at the crossing on Hawthorne St, where the sides of one of the carriages folded down to make a stage where a couple of performers done a short 30 minute set. In all honesty this is probably a good amount of time for the show, especially if visiting with children. Most of the stops happen in the evening, so the temperatures drop and it can get a little chilly standing around waiting for the train to arrive! Make sure you dress up warm!
Again, if you are visiting with kids, plan where you want to stand to see it. You CAN get right near the track (there are marshals to ensure people don’t stand too close to the track) and attempt to be in the front row but then you might want to stand further back. Bear in mind that this event does pull in quite a crowd, so unless you plan on holding your child up for the whole time, small people may struggle to see over people’s heads.
If you’re only wanting to see the train, I would be tempted to stand a little way along the track rather than right at the crossing as this is where the stage will be and where the biggest crowd is at.
Related Reading: Rocking Out to the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train!