Fruitcakes, Cosplay and Fireworks: Zany North Dakota Christmas Celebrations

It’s Christmastime in North Dakota, a place where Santa shows up in a helicopter, carolers in Renaissance costumes sing as wassail is served, and revelers toss fruitcakes in front of a roaring crowd. You’ll find sleigh rides and cozy Christmas markets, sure, but cosplay and fireworks are equally likely. Celebrating Christmas in the Peace Garden State is many things (cold, snowy and occasionally over the top) but it’s never boring.

So here are some of the coolest ways to celebrate the season in North Dakota. Be sure to let me know your favorites in the comments below.

Dickens Village Festival
If Dickens novels or Victorian cosplay is your jam, then Garrison is the place for you this holiday season. This little prairie town completely morphs into a 19th century English village. And everybody gets into it — shopkeepers and visitors alike dress up in Victorian garb to take in a Dickens play, enjoy a traditional high tea and snack on smoked turkey drumsticks, rice pudding or conveniently hand-warming baked potatoes with all the fixings.

You’ll find a daily lighted parade and holiday light tours too. But my pick for the most amusing tradition is the fruitcake tossing contest, where the strongest and bravest in six age groups compete for cash prizes and the honor of chucking a much reviled dessert the longest distance down Main Street. Weirdly, you can also eat the securely wrapped, previously thrown fruitcakes, if you happen to be one of the handful of people on the planet that actually enjoy fruitcake in a real and non-ironic way.

Santa Village at Rheault Farm
This little farmstead has been completely enveloped by the city of Fargo, but still retains its rustic charm. I bring my son here to say hi to Santa and his (live) reindeer, decorate a cookie with Mrs. Claus, do a craft project or two and put pennies in the toy trains every year.

And the price is right — just bring a few non-perishable food items to donate and you’re in. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to give a little holiday cheer, instead of just getting it.

Santa Village at Rheault Farm

HollyDazzle Festival of Lights
November 26
Can’t decide if roasting s’mores, decorating Christmas cookies or sipping hot cocoa during a frosty sleigh ride is the best way to dive headlong into the holiday season? Do all three! And shop the holiday market, grab snacks from the food trucks, listen to live music and bundle up for the lighted holiday parade and fireworks during this epic Grand Forks festival while you’re at it. You’ll be in seasonal overdrive before you know it.

The only thing missing from this Christmas cornucopia is Buddy the elf. Wait, just kidding — there’s a free screening of “Elf” on the schedule too. Okay, they’ve officially thought of everything.

This indoor/outdoor Christmas market offers more holiday charm per square foot any other festival in Fargo. (It’s from the minds of the folks that do the Red River Market, so you know they’ve got the art of creating atmosphere down pat.)

The vibe is equal parts cozy (Mulled wine! Carolers! An outdoor Winter Wonderland!) and convivial (think art demonstrations, a bustling gift market and busy beerhall). So dress in layers, bring a friend or fifty and get your holiday magic fix.

Madrigal Dinners
If you’ve ever listened to a Christmas concert and thought, “You know, what this event really needs is lush Renaissance costumes and a hearty, historically accurate, multi-course meal so I can feel like I’m dining with a Duke in, say, 1495,” well, this is the event for you. The NDSU Madrigal singers will regale you with holiday music, herald trumpets will triumphantly announce each course and you can finally figure out what the heck “wassail” is when they pass around the ol’ wassail bowl.

Reserve tickets well in advance. They’ve been doing this event for decades and it fills up fast.

Medora’s Old Fashioned Cowboy Christmas
This folksy little western town is a major summer draw, but its wooden sidewalks and village vibe quaint storefronts are equally lovely under a blanket of snow. For a little Christmas ambience, cowboy style, check out this three day event, which offers an exclusive holiday musical, drinks and holiday nibbles in many of the town’s quaint storefronts and restaurants during the Eats on the Streets event and a tempting buffet of foods brought to the region by European settlers served at the Chateau des Mores, overlooking the badlands bluffs.

Santa Fly-In at the Fargo Air Museum
Santa arrives in a freakin’ helicopter, people! What more do you need to know? (Okay, there will be also be elves onsite, a chance for kids to talk to the man in red himself and a few airplanes to climb on board as well.) This sounds like a win to me.

What about you?
Which events sound the most fun to you?
Did any of these events surprise you? Why?
Which holiday events are on your must-do list?
What Christmas events do you recommend in your city, state or province?
What gets you in the Christmas spirit?

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