Classic Holiday Events in Central Iowa

Classic Holiday Events in Central Iowa

Central Iowa has some classic holiday events, that have been around for awhile. These events are something families do every year as a tradition! Am I missing a classic? E-mail me! All of these events are on our Event Calendar!



Festival of Trees

Octagon Center of the Arts

November 13th – 29th 

Monday – Friday: 10 am – 5 pm

Saturday & Sunday: 1 pm – 5 pm 

Fri, Nov. 13, 5:00 – 8:00 PM :: Festival of Trees Kick Off
Join us to celebrate the opening of the Festival with refreshments, holiday music and holiday craft activities for the kids! Thurs, Nov. 27 – Fri, Nov. 28 :: The Festival of Trees will be closed 11/26 in observance of Thanksgiving, and open Friday, 11/28. Octagon offices and Sweeney galleries closed 11/27-28. Happy Thanksgiving!

Jingle in the Junction

Historic Valley Junction 

November 19th, December 3rd & 10th 

5 pm – 9 pm

Join us for “Jingle in the Junction” on Thursday, November 19, December 3 and December 10 from 5-9 pm. The businesses in Historic Valley Junction and the streets will be lined with over 150,000 twinkling lights. Along with your old favorites, such as FREE horse and trolley rides, Santa, and caroling, watch Bill Gordish carve beautiful ice sculptures, Professor Von Air create balloon magic, and enjoy our petting zoo!

Gift Mart Junior League of Des Moines

Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center 

November 19th – 21st 

Gift Mart is the Junior League of Des Moines’ annual shopping event. This upscale shopping extravaganza features boutique shopping with over 60 unique retailers. Gift Mart raises funds to fulfill the Junior League of Des Moines’ mission of building a better community. Proceeds from Gift Mart support community projects sponsored by JLDM. In 2015-2016, all proceeds benefit our community project supporting survivors of human trafficking. Learn more. This unique holiday shopping experience has not only helped to fund our various community programs, but has also proven to be a great kick off to the holiday shopping season! Since 1989, Gift Mart has helped to raise close to $1 million for Des Moines area community projects.

Holiday Promenade 

Historic East Village 

November 20th 

5 pm 

This is the holiday kickoff in Downtown Des Moines. Enjoy beautiful lights, shopping, food and more!

Jolly Holiday Lights 

Water Works Park

November 24th – January 1st 

5:30 pm – 10:00 pm 

Come out and celebrate 20 Years of Jolly Holiday Lights, a great holiday tradition! Bundle up the family and enjoy a 3.5 mile ride through magical light displays. 100% of admission fees go directly to Make-A-Wish® Iowa!

Jolly Holiday Lights is a drive-through holiday light display that is annually set up by Make-A-Wish Iowa in Des Moines’ Water Works Park. Since it began in 1995, the event has raised enough money to grant about 638 wishes to Iowa kids!

Don’t forget to get your picture taken with Santa ($10) and enjoy a cookie and cocoa at Santa’s Wish Shop! The gift shop, located at the end of the route, has snacks, Santa and small gift items. All proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish Iowa.

Santa Express

Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad 

Several dates & times starting November 27th – December 20th

Enjoy a 1+ hour round trip ride from the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad depot, to the North Pole, and return.
You will be served hot chocolate and cookies, and receive a special gift from Santa. Arrive in your pajamas and prepare for a great adventure.Children in first class receive a special commemorative Santa Express mug, a large gold bell, cookies, and hot chocolate.

Festival of Trees and Lights

Veteran’s Memorial Community Choice Credit Union

November 25th – 29th

Check hours here

Festival of Trees & Lights is a five-day public event that is the main fundraiser for Blank Children’s Hospital. The event features beautifully decorated trees, entertainment, children’s activities, food, shopping and more! Your attendance means you are supporting valuable programs at Blank Children’s Hospital. Programs that would not be possible without the generous support of our community.

Spirit of the Season Kickoff

Science Center of Iowa 

November 28th 

5 pm – 8 pm 

Spirit of the Season is the Science Center of Iowa’s annual holiday season of celebration, a month packed full of holiday-themed programming presented by Nationwide.

SCI’s Spirit of the Season will feature unique events every weekend from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. A kick-off event on Saturday, November 28, will include:

FREE general admission from 5:00-8:00 pm
Holiday-themed live programming
A visit from Santa Claus
An electrifying tree lighting
FREE cookies and cocoa
Holiday crafts
Outdoor fireworks to end the evening


Butterfly Blizzard

Reiman Gardens

December 5th OR December 19th 

8 am – 9:30 am 

Come in from the cold to experience a different kind of blizzard – a butterfly blizzard in Reiman Gardens’ Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing! You won’t want to miss this opportunity to release your very own butterfly in this tropical, indoor garden.

Participants must preregister with payment by December 4. Cost is $5 for one butterfly, $8 for two butterflies, $12 for three butterflies, and $3 for each additional butterfly. Price DOES NOT include admission to the Gardens.

Santa at the Zoo

Blank Park Zoo

December 5th & 12th 

10 am – 2 pm 

Bring the entire family to Blank Park Zoo to enjoy a day of holiday cheer. After snapping a photo with Santa, writing a letter to the North Pole and enjoying a warm cup of hot cocoa, explore the wonders of the Zoo, both indoors and outdoors! Bring along your scarf and hat and wish all of our animal friends a happy holiday!

Living History Farms Family Christmas

December 5th 

3 pm – 7 pm 

Join us for a holiday open house filled with Christmas cheer! Bundle up for a horse-drawn wagon ride to visit the festive Flynn Mansion. Enjoy an old fashioned holiday social with dance music by the Barn Owl Band in the Church of the Land. Kids will enjoy printing their own holiday greeting cards, decorating cookies, making crafts, and visiting Santa Claus! Adults can shop for unique gifts in the MarketPlace Museum Store (open noon-8pm). Prices: $6.50/person; $5.00 LHF member. Advance: $6.00/person, $4.50 LHF member. Tickets will go on sale November 16 at noon.

A Christmas Carol

Terrace Hill

December 5th

1 pm – 4:30 pm

The performance that continually sells out is returning to the Iowa Governor’s Mansion. Presented by the award winning Iowa Shakespeare Experience and written exclusively for Terrace Hill, the performance moves throughout the mansion’s parlors, halls, and bed chambers, as the story unfolds in a truly “up close and personal” manner.

This is a presentation of Charles Dickens’ beloved story of Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge as you’ve never seen it before! Each performance will include festive desserts and refreshments during intermission.

The holiday tradition continues!

Jingle Bell Rock N’ Run

Science Center of Iowa

December 6th 

9 am 

Kick off the holiday season with the SCI Jingle Bell Rock ‘n Run 5K! Don your most festive attire as you dash through downtown Des Moines. Following the run, enjoy a hot breakfast, warm drinks and concert from Brother Trucker!

Holly & Ivy 

Salisbury House 

December 5th – 7th 

10 am – 5 pm

Enjoy Des Moines’ most distinctive and historic home, Salisbury House,
adorned by the finest local decorators.World Food Prize Hall of Laureates

World Food Prize Hall of Laureates Holiday Open House

December 12th & 19th 

9 am – 1 pm 

The community is invited to join us at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates on Saturday, Dec. 12, Dec. 19, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for our Holiday Open House. Come and hear holiday music and experience the spectacular acoustics in this historic building, and explore our world through photos.

There will be a live performance of seasonal Christmas music by the Grace Church Ensemble, as well as the opportunity to tour our 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World international photography exhibit by Howard G. Buffett. These two elements will bring us together around an important theme at this time of year, to unite us all in the spirit of alleviating hunger that is still experienced by so many in the world.

Please share this invitation with all of your friends, colleagues, family members, and other community members and encourage them to join us.

There is no admission charge and it is a wonderful opportunity to experience our beautiful building during this special time of year.

For more information or questions please contact Nicole Barreca at 515-245-3735 or

The Nutcracker

Des Moines Civic Center

December 12th & 13th 

Des Moines’ first Nutcracker was performed by the Des Moines Civic Ballet Company in 1966 with Act I staged by IDT’s Founding Director, Mary Joyce Lind, and Act II staged by Tatiana Doukodovska from Kansas City.

Iowa Dance Theatre has produced the ballet at the Des Moines Civic Center since 1997. The Nutcracker is choreographed and directed by a team of dance professionals from Des Moines and the surrounding area. This collaboration is at the heart of fulfilling IDT’s mission.

This year, in The Nutcracker cast, we have over 250 dancers from approximately 30 dance studios from throughout central Iowa. This year’s show is dedicated to our founding director, Mary Joyce.

There will be a Sugar Plum Tea on Saturday, December 12th at 12:30 p.m. Tickets to the tea are $15 and can be purchased at the Des Moines Civic Center Ticket Office.

One Starry Night

Grimes United Methodist Church 

December 17th & 18th 

6:15 pm – 8:30 pm

On Thursday, December 17th & Friday, December 18th, come experience the magic of Christmas. Enter the city gates of ancient Bethlehem and journey toward our live Nativity. Your family will register at the census table, “pay taxes”, watch the Angels deliver the good news to the Shepherds, see Joseph and Mary on their journey, meet King Herod then travel with the Magis toward the Nativity with live animals. The journey will end in the Bethlehem market place where there will be crafts, demonstrations, and snacks.

Tonic Sol-Fa

Hoyt Sherman Place 

December 18th & 19th 

Celebrate the holiday season at this popular show. Greg, Jared, and Shaun have arranged a fantastic a cappella show, fun for any age!

Community Christmas: Johnston River of Life Church

Simpson Barn 

December 19th 

4 pm & 6 pm 

Santa, goodies & cider 5pm & 7 pm 



Erin Huiatt

Erin is a reliable resource and stepping stone for women and families to find support and make connections within our community. She wants families to feel confident to reach out and ask for help and advice to get pointed in the right direction. She enjoys traveling and exploring with her two children in tow!

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