The holiday season can be one heck of a financial burden. New outfits, tons of socializing and plenty of presents can be a drain on your bank account and cause more stress than this happy holiday season is meant to have. But never fear. There are plenty of ways you and yours can get out and enjoy the festive spirit without spending a dime. Here are some of the best ways to be merry and bright without having to find any silver and gold.
1. Check out the Christmas lights.
Milwaukee's Cathedral Square, Pere Marquette and Zeidler Union Square lights, plus Candy Cane Lane and the light show at Miller Brewing, Chippewa Falls' Irvine Park Christmas Village, Lakeside Light Show in Fond du Lac, Making Spirits Bright in Sheboygan, Zoo Lights at Henry Vilas in Madison and Rotary Lights in La Crosse are all free displays. Most accent food donations if you feel the need to contribute something.
2. Visit a Nature Center.
Get out and explore. Most of these spots have extensive land for hiking and exploring year round as well as events, classes and story time. Bay Beach Sanctuary in Green Bay, Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha, 1000 Island Environmental Center in Kaukauna, North Lakeland Discovery Center in Manitowish Waters and Ledge View Nature Center in Chilton are just a few of the spots that are open year round and have winter activities, from bird counts to solstice hikes.
It's the season of giving, so whether you make care packages, help at a food bank or spend time helping at a shelter, your help goes a long way this time of year. Many of the local holiday light displays spend time collecting money for charity and can use help. This can be a great family tradition that become a part of your holiday routine.
4. "A Lure of Lights" - Hayward.
This month-long celebration of the holiday season includes free Saturday night s'mores pits, games during the Chili Cookoff and two different hot chocolate crawls where you can taste the best offerings in town and vote for your favorite. The lights go on every night at sundown, so plan a day of strolling and window shopping to take in the brilliant displays.
5. Visit the State Capitol Building - Madison.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the state capitol building and the tree has ornaments honoring that celebration. You'll often find free concerts inside and outside the building and the huge tree in the rotunda is a great way to get into the spirit. There are decorations throughout to discover, as well, honoring many different holiday traditions.
6. Snowshoe at Horicon Marsh - Horicon.
Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. Located in southeast Wisconsin, Horicon Marsh has been formally recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations. Open all year, there are tons of opportunities to explore this awesome habitat. In the winter, they check out snowshoes free of charge. You can also borrow binoculars and field guides. Bundle up, pack a lunch and have a spectacular free day in one of Wisconsin's most beautiful spots.
7. Go sledding!
This one might be reserved for those further north, but there's just something so magical about bundling up and flying free for a few minutes. Check out your local county or city park system for known sledding hills and have a blast.
8. Head to the library.
Check with your local library to find tons of free events, from craft classes and story time to holiday movie viewings and holiday concerts. A quick check brought up events at Milwaukee, Madison, Wausau, La Crosse and Green Bay area libraries, so it's a good bet your local library is having some fun events, as well. Heck, in Brown County, you can even meet reindeer!
9. View the Gemenid Meteor Shower.
What better way to get into the spirit of wonder and magic than to stare into space and be awed by one of the most reliable meteor showers of the year? There's nothing that will make you appreciate the life you have like contemplating the vastness of the universe. The Gemenids should reach their peak on the night of December 14, but shooting stars are likely to be visible from the 7th to the 17th. They are most prolific meteor shower of the year, producing up to 120 shooting stars an hour. Your best chance is staying up late or getting up very early - the moon will set after midnight, taking away any light pollution and making viewing even easier. You'll want to get away from any city lights, but from there, the show should be easily viewable. It's well worth bundling up and heading out to check this one out. You'll want to look for Orion and then look up and to the left to find Gemini, which is high in the southwestern sky. But don't stare right at it or you'll miss out on a lot of the fun. Check out that whole area of the sky and be prepared to be awed.
What are your favorite ways to get into the holiday spirit without spending an arm and a leg? Let us know about your wallet-saving holiday entertainment tips in the comments!