Although Elkhart Lake is a corner of the map that is celebrated for its lively lakefront in the summertime, there is a whole other side to be discovered when the village tucks in for the colder months. Winter brings a quieter tune to town and the holiday season brings just the right amount of sparkle.
Elkhart Lake is where I first experienced the joy of being on a street so peaceful you can hear the snow fall. It’s the place where I’m reminded of my sister and I as children pointing out the snowman as our favorite street light decoration from the backseat of our station wagon while driving through town in December. (I don’t think the snowman exists anymore, but the town decor is still very merry.)
Although I’m no longer one of the little ones in the village, it still holds years of enchanting memories and remains the place I return to in search of winter serenity and hopefully the chance to experience a fresh dusting of holiday snow across the frozen lake, rolling kettles and evergreen trees. I’ve spent all but a number I can count on one hand of my holidays in the place I luckily get to call home.
Like most events in a 1,000-person town, the motto “small but mighty” applies. The beauty of Elkhart Lake is that everything happens within a several mile radius. Although November can be a bit of a darker month with the trees becoming bare while we await the season’s first snowfall to brighten the scene, there is a very special moment that takes place in the heart of town no matter what Mother Nature is up to.
Christmas in the Square on November 26th is the light at the end of the November tunnel and quite possibly one of the most treasured local holiday gatherings. Enjoy horse drawn carriage rides, hot drinks served by the local Boy Scouts and sweet treats from Bettersweet Bakery from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Be sure to gather near the historic train depot to join the high school choir in singing carols leading up to the Village Tree Lighting. The tree is scheduled to be merry and bright at 6:30 p.m. The whole point is to bundle up and welcome a new season alongside those you love as you cheer on the local Chamber of Commerce lighting the adorable tree. Continuing to bring the community together, ElkhartCares will be a sparking little holiday cheer for the whole family at Santa’s Village, a fun and free event for all ages. Before you head over to the tree lighting, pop in to say hello to Santa, play a few reindeer games, and relish in this community gathering. Both the tree and the warm smiles of village residents shine a light on the special way of life here.
Simple rituals like the tree lighting ceremony are what keep us connected to one another and to this place across generations. And in this neck of the woods, these traditions are what see us through the winter. Should you choose to grab your hat and mittens and head to the village square for the festivities, you can count on a jolly multi-generational crowd as well as the perfect excuse to extend an invite to loved ones for a drink or dinner afterwards at one of the local restaurants.
After the excitement of the tree lighting weekend, most people hop onto the full steam ahead train to holiday planning, decorating and shopping. If you’re like me, Black Friday shopping feels more like entering a haunted house. This is another reason why Elkhart Lake is my favorite place to spend the holidays. December in other places can feel fast paced and filled with pressure to fill your calendar and to spend money at big box stores. In this little place, you can achieve a balance of joy and peace with local businesses providing all the options for gifts and gatherings you need throughout the holiday season.
If you’re looking to shop locally for your holiday gift exchanges this year, be sure to make the Retail Holiday Open House on December 3rd a priority. Vintage Elkhart Lake Wine Shop, Gina’s Fine Gifts & Framing, Elkhart Lake Outfitters and Two Fish Gallery will all be opening their doors with specials as well as beverages and treats. Each of these shops has been a mainstay in the village’s retail scene for over a decade and can always be counted on to set the holiday mood. For every participating shop you visit, you’ll receive a raffle ticket for a chance to win local prizes!
In addition to the shops participating in the Retail Open House weekend, the Small Town Big Family store is always worth stopping in for an experience that keeps the 53020 zip code at the heart of every product. It is also the season to step into the coziness of the Nordic Accents shop. It’s a wonderful spot for Scandinavian woolen apparel as well as high quality winter home goods and holiday themed children’s books for the little ones on your shopping list.
Another local tradition, The Old World Christmas Market, will be opening its doors for its 24th year at the Osthoff Resort! The market kicks off on December 2nd and runs until the 11th. Inspired by the traditional markets of Germany, what lies inside the large heated tent is not just a place to shop, but a place to experience the German holiday culture. Sip on mulled wine and enjoy a plate of schnitzel, potato pancakes, red cabbage and apple strudel for dessert.
The market is a mix of imported fine items and local artisans’ creations. Village residents go for the atmosphere and to find a new pair of mittens made to last or to add a special ornament to their family collection that has been in the making for years.
Whether Elkhart Lake is your year-round home or your home for the holidays, the Osthoff also hosts many festivities to help your family make memories. Cookie decorating, ornament making, a breakfast with St. Nick and reindeer, and horse-drawn wagon rides will all be happening throughout December. Keep in mind The Elk Room within the wonderfully decorated hotel lobby for a place to hideout on a snowy night with friends and old fashioneds.
If you happen to be in Elkhart Lake to ring in 2023, you can count on live music at The Shore Club on New Year’s Eve as well as more live music on New Year’s Day at the Concourse at the Osthoff Resort. It is a local tradition to bundle yet again and cheers Bloody Mary glasses at the Tiki Bar on January 1st. Brats, lively polka music and the view of the frigid lake at the Tiki Bar make for a memorable first day of the year.
While it’s easy to get swept up in holiday to-do lists, you can always count on Elkhart Lake to be the place where you are able to soak in this quieter, but no less brighter time of year. Take a stroll through the village for the sake of simply taking in all the twinkling lights. Stop in at Off the Rail for a hot seasonal drink, and when you step back outside with your cup warming your hands, perhaps this year, you will experience the peaceful meaning behind “not a creature was stirring”… not even a village mouse.
Please visit our events page to see the full lineup of holiday happenings in the village: https://www.elkhartlake.com/events/
Meet the Author
Kate Vollrath was born and raised in Elkhart Lake. After several years of working and adventuring in Anchorage, Alaska and a year studying in Italy, she has returned to her favorite freshwater shoreline. Wisconsin will always be home. The incredible local culture, extraordinary community, and summer Sundays on the water are what keep her rooted and returning no matter where life takes her.