Everyone knows about the run-of-the-mill traditions that signal the start of the holiday season: the trees, the wreaths, the eggnog on supermarket shelves, etc. But in Wisconsin, we have all of these plus several more customs that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Here are eight signs that the holidays have officially started in Wisconsin.
1. Taking holiday decorations to the next level
No one knows how to decorate for the holidays like a Wisconsin mom. Tinsel lines every door and window frame, candles sit in the sills, each door has a festive wreath, and the lights on the outside of the house brighten up the whole yard. Some say Christmas lights are tacky, but when the colors reflect off a fresh layer of Wisconsin snow, you can’t deny that it’s beautiful.
2. Cruising the town to check out Christmas lights
Those Christmas lights go up for a reason! Piling into the car, each with a seven-layer bar and a hot chocolate, to drive around town looking at the lights is a family tradition.
3. Attending or riding in the town parade
Your favorite local pub, your parents’ church, and Jim from the hardware store all have a float in your town’s annual Christmas Parade. As a kid, you probably even rode on one of them and, if you were lucky, on Santa’s float.
4. Eating herring for prosperity
You know the holidays are upon us when your local grocer stocks extra jars of pickled herring on the shelves. A tradition passed on from Wisconsinites’ Scandinavian roots, eating pickled herring on a saltine cracker is the best way to ensure good fortune in the year to come. Of course, you have to eat it at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve or else the magic won’t work.
5. Hiding a pickle ornament in the tree
Hanging a pickle ornament on the Christmas tree is a custom that’s believed to be Germanic. No one knows exactly why the Christmas pickle became a tradition, but many families today will still hide an ornament in the tree. Then the race is on to be the first to find it — being awarded the honor of getting to open your presents first is worth the frenzy.
6. Taking a Polar Plunge
Nothing says “Happy New Year” like cheering on your friends as they plunge into the frigid water. As if we needed another way to prove our ability to withstand the cold, jumping into a near-frozen lake is a great start to the year.
7. Celebrating St. Nick’s Day
In Wisconsin, the Christmas season officially starts when Saint Nick visits — 19 days before Santa Claus. As a kid, you used to grab the biggest shoes you could find in the house to fit more chocolate, nuts, fruit, and toys.