Holiday Festivities Begin Around Iowa
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Produced in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs
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Wherever you are, whoever you’re with and whatever fills your table, we hope you’re enjoying the holiday. Photo: Jed Owen.

Happy Thanksgiving From the ia Team

Before we all tuck into our meals with friends and family, we want to take a moment to thank you—our readersfor your continued support of our newsletter and of ia magazine. This year, we've brought you stories that showcase Iowa's engaging destinations, vibrant culture and intriguing people. We are grateful for the opportunity to share these stories from around the state, and for the thousands of you who read our newsletter every other week, soaking up all Iowa has to offer in arts, culture, food and more. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Parranderos Latin Combo will headline this year's Celebrate Iowa Gala. The Latin music group recently released their album "El Gran Chantaje" featuring 13 new songs.

Celebrate Iowa’s Greatest Hits

You’d be hard-pressed, dear ia newsletter reader, to find a more Iowan event than the Celebrate Iowa Gala on Dec. 9 at the Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines. The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs hosts the annual celebration to showcase Iowa art, history, culture and community spirit while raising proceeds for statewide programs of the State Historical Society of Iowa.

It’s “an all-Iowa experience for guests to enjoy Iowa’s ‘greatest hits’ in music, food and entertainment,” department director Chris Kramer says. “It’s one of the best places to gather while also supporting Iowa history and culture.”

This year’s lineup includes music from the Parranderos Latin Combo, among others, as well as a history-inspired art installation by Iowa Artist Fellow Julia Franklin. The menu features food and drinks from farms, dairies, restaurants, breweries and distilleries from across the state.
Reiman Gardens will be decked out in holiday lights just in time for the Merry and Bright Holiday Weekend in Ames. Take a walk through after the sun sets Thursdays through Saturdays throughout December to see the Winter Wonderscape Light Show for yourself. Photo: Discover Ames.

Feeling Festive in Story and Boone Counties

If you're looking to really get into the holiday spirit, look no further than Ames. During the weekend of Dec. 2-4, the city is hosting its Merry and Bright Holiday Weekend full of activities and shopping throughout Story and Boone counties.

Stroll through a light show in Reiman Gardens, visit the holiday market at Prairie Moon Winery, take a ride on the Santa Express at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad or enjoy all-you-can-eat malted waffles with all the fixings at the Iowa Arboretum. And that’s not even half of the lineup. There’s also the WinterFest and Snow Magic kickoffs. See the full list of weekend plans here.
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Visit your tried-and-true favorite vendors, or check out some of the stalls new for 2022 at Christkindlmarket. Photo: Des Moines European Heritage Association.

Find German Festivities in Des Moines

Christkindlmarket Des Moines returns this year at Principal Park. The festive outdoor market space will run Dec. 1-4, featuring traditional cultural experiences and new local makers alike.

Venture in on an empty stomach and a full wallet to try out all kinds of old- and new-world delights. New this year are several craft and food vendors. FIKA, whose name comes from the Swedish word for taking a coffee and pastry break, will sell authentic Swedish baked goods (with vegan- and gluten-friendly options), and German Taste will offer the iconic German “currywurst.” is a new vendor stocking custom leather goods, while Good Moon Pottery has all kinds of everyday ceramics. See the full list of vendors here, and check the schedule of demonstrations and entertainment here.
Downtown Pella dresses up in its Christmas finest this time of year. Attractions include the new outdoor Dutch Christmas Market (Dec. 1-3) and a holiday home tour. Plus, there's great shopping downtown. Photo: Visit Pella.

Experience Dutch Traditions in Pella

Steel drum concerts at Central College, holiday home tours, the arrival of Sinterklaas, and of course shopping for those famous Dutch letters at Jaarsma Bakery are well-rooted traditions during the Christmas season in Pella.

The town of about 10,000 is celebrating its second year of Kerstmarkt—Pella’s Dutch Christmas market. Inspired by outdoor markets in the Netherlands, the event (Dec. 1-3 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) showcases artisan vendors, Dutch foods and beverages (including martinis), and live music. It’s being held at Molengracht Plaza.

While in town, be sure to check out the other activities, including the annual holiday tour of homes, festival of trees, and downtown shopping. Click here for a complete list of events.
A good holiday party calls for good cocktails. Brush up on your mixology techniques for a few easy go-to drinks that will impress guests or hosts alike. In this video, Joe Gunnells with Ken's, a not-so-secret speakeasy bar below the Iowa Taproom in Des Moines, shows us how to make an Old-Fashioned and a sidecar.

Warm Up With Classic Cocktails

Wherever your holiday travels may take you, nothing beats a good Old-Fashioned. Sneak away to these speakeasy-style bars, or bring the family for after-dinner digestifs.

Bar Winslow in Cedar Falls
Find this Prohibition-inspired craft cocktail bar in the historic Black Hawk Hotel—once known as the Winslow House. Go old-school with an Old-Fashioned, get a little tipsy with a New York Sour (with Bulleit bourbon and a red wine float), or let out your inner Swiftie with a Cardigan (1800 añejo tequila, Kahlua, Bailey's, cold brew, cinnamon). Vintage bonus: original penny tile on the floors. (115 Main St.)

Barley’s Bar in
Council Bluffs
This saloon-style speakeasy doesn’t try to hide, but it has that old-timey feel, with lots of woodwork and brick. Beer is the star, with taps rotating lagers, pale ales, malty brown ales and stouts. Barley’s favors Iowa craft brewers, like Exile in Des Moines and Coralville’s Backpocket Brewing, maker of coffee stout Wake the F Up Iowa. (114 W. Broadway)

R.G. Books Lounge in Cedar Rapids
Open the door in a bookcase wall to enter a dimly lit room with more books. Play the United Nations card by ordering an Irish Russian in Cancun (Patron coffee liqueur, Stoli, cream and Bailey’s). Or stick to one country with the French (Stoli Razberi, Chambord and pineapple juice). For domestic bliss, try RG’s Sazerac (rye, absinthe, bitters, sugar and lemon twist). (3611 First Ave. S.E.)

Coon Rapids Goes Big for Christmas

It looks like folks in Coon Rapids have borrowed the “yes, and …” approach from improv comedy for their annual Christmas in a Small Town festival on Dec. 3.

A lighted parade? Yes! And live reindeer? Yes! And carriage rides. And a chocolate fountain buffet. And mini golf. And bingo. And much, much more before the Pale Moons – singer-songwriters Chad Elliott and Anna Kopaska – wrap things up with a concert at the Raccoon River Social Club.

To pull it off, every last one of the Iowa Great Place’s 1,300 locals seems to be pitching in to make this year’s small-town shindig a very big deal.

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