Light shows, virtual ballets and yes, Dickens: A pandemic guide to holiday festivities

The music pavilion
You won't be able to walk through Bentleyville's Tour of Lights in Duluth, Minn., this year but you can still visit — it's a drive-thru event because of the pandemic.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2014

Updated: Dec. 17, 7:27 p.m. | Posted: Dec. 16, 4 a.m.

There will be no in-person “Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie Theater this year. No chance to walk through Bentleyville’s famous tour of lights (more on that later). And Clara and the nutcracker will only be visiting the Land of Sweets in our dreams, or on our screens. 

With coronavirus cases in Minnesota spiking, many familiar holiday attractions will look very different this year. But while 2020’s celebrations may be at a distance, there are still plenty of opportunities for festive holiday activities. Here are a few ideas.   

Light shows get the drive-thru treatment

Located at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, the GLOW Holiday Festival features over a million lights on its milelong route. Oh, and did we mention there’s even a drive-thru food court, with the chance to purchase some fair favorites? Tickets are $46, plus fees. Runs through Jan. 3. 

Over at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, Nature Illuminated showcases massive inflatable replicas based on animals from all over the world. They are lit up with colorful lights and accompanied by a guided audio tour played through your car stereo. Tickets start at $25 per vehicle for members and $50 per vehicle for nonmembers. Runs through Jan. 17. 

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The moon over a giant turtle and blue trees.
The moon shines over an inflatable moose and a Blanding's turtle inside the Nature Illuminated exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, Minn., Nov. 27.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

At Valleyfair in Shakopee, the Christmas in Color light show features millions of lights synchronized to holiday music. Tickets are $30 and the show runs through Jan. 3. 

From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, the Cathedral of St. Paul is illuminated by a light and sound projection on the front of the building, telling the story of Christmas. The free drive-along show, the Cathedral Illuminated: The Manger, runs for 12 minutes and is also livestreamed on the Cathedral Heritage Foundation’s Facebook page from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Through Jan. 17, you can check out the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Winter Lights show. Tickets are $10 for arboretum members and $15 for nonmembers. Children ages 15 and younger are free. Note: Each person in your vehicle needs to have a ticket. (Last we checked, no more dates were available for December so hurry if this is on your must-see list.) 

And while we said you can’t walk through the Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth like in years past, it doesn’t mean you still can’t visit. You’ll just have to do it in your car. Admission is $10 per vehicle, and the show runs through Dec. 31. 

A virtual telling of ‘A Christmas Carol’

From Dec. 19 to Dec. 31, the Guthrie Theater will be offering a virtual telling of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” This year would have marked the production’s 46th consecutive run on the Guthrie stage, but the 2020 adaptation will instead feature four “Christmas Carol” veterans for this reimagined version. 

Tickets are $10 and are intended for single household use. Once purchased, the show can be viewed an unlimited number of times before the end of the year. 

‘En pointe’ and online

Poster of "The Snow Queen."
Ballet Co. Laboratory will premiere "The Snow Queen" on Dec. 19 and Dec. 20.
Courtesy of Ballet Co. Laboratory

St. Paul’s Ballet Co.Laboratory is presenting “The Snow Queen” this holiday season. The original ballet is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic story. In this version by Zoe Emilie Henrot, young Gerda goes on a quest to save her brother who is struck by an “icy fragment” from the queen’s magic mirror. It’s available for streaming at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 20.

The Minnesota Ballet is offering up Nutcracker Suite: A Duluth Tale.” In this version, “Clara encounters fairies, princes, lumberjacks, sweets-makers and more” while on a holiday trip. Minnesota Ballet says the full production will be available for download on its website Dec. 18 for $20.

Dozens of other ballet companies throughout the country are also offering livestreamed versions of “The Nutcracker.” You can find streaming details here.   

Spreading Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear

The Minnesota Opera’s holiday special is now available for streaming through Dec. 27. Tickets for the concert, filmed at the Ordway in St. Paul, start at $10. 

Also streaming from the Ordway beginning Dec. 19 is “The Night Before Christmas: In Concert” from Minnesota’s Grammy-winning Sounds of Blackness. Tickets are $15 and the show is available through Dec. 31.

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is streaming encore broadcasts of Handel’s “Messiah.” It’s available for free at 8 p.m. Dec. 19 and 2 p.m. Dec. 20, but donations are accepted. 

The Penumbra Theatre is streaming a “Celebration of the Soul” at 7 p.m. Dec. 19, showcasing favorites from “Black Nativity.” The concert is free but registration is required. Donations are also being accepted. 

The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus will premiere its “Holiday Hotdish” concert at 7 p.m. Dec. 19. Billed as “part concert, part holiday baking show,” the concert will be available on YouTube. Viewers will be asked to pay what they can. 

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres will stream a concert honoring two classic Christmas crooners. “The Andy & Bing Christmas” (for Andy Williams and Bing Crosby) will be available Dec. 26 through the end of the year. Tickets start at $20.  

Can’t get enough holiday music? Classical MPR has a number of specials available for streaming. Find the master listing here.

Classical MPR, The Current and MPR News will also host a virtual Bring the Sing on the Solstice at 5 p.m. Dec. 21. Stations will broadcast “This Little Light of Mine” for a giant singalong. 

A little holiday history

At 1 p.m. Dec. 19, historian Alex Weston will guide guests through 150 years of Minnesota holiday traditions in the Hennepin History Museum’s ‘Tis the Season. Learn about the local history of Hanukkah, Christmas and Ramadan, as well as Kwanzaa, Ōmisoka and Julebukking. Tickets are pay what you can.