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Your Guide to Winter Fun in the Twin Cities

By the time snowflakes start falling, it feels like the right time to snuggle up on the couch with a blanket and never go outside again. But here in the Twin Cities, there are enough activities and events to keep you going out even during a polar vortex-like day... provided you bundle up first. We've collected some of this season's best winter events around the metro -- including seasonal activities, dance performances, theater, visual arts, and music.

See also: 50 Reasons We Love Winter in Minnesota

Holiday and Seasonal Activities

Lowertown SantaCon VII Lowertown St. Paul

There are plenty of holiday-themed bar crawls throughout the winter, but there is only one SantaCon. The seventh-annual Lowertown SantaCon, also known as "Santarchy" or "The Red Menace," features a costumed crew of Santas (along with some of his yuletide homies and the terrifying Krampus) strolling the streets during the most epic pub crawl of the year. The happening kicks off at 6 p.m. at Golden's Deli before making its way to various bars throughout Lowertown, including stops at Barrio, Gopher Bar, and Senior Wong. There's also an all-ages segment at the Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar, giving the kiddos a chance to see the army of St. Nicks in their element before things get too boozy. There are no entry fees, no wristbands, and no merchandise associated with this event. It's just a massive community of Kris Kringles (and a few driedels and ugly sweaters) looking to usher in the holiday season in the most awesome way possible. For more info, visit lowertownsantacon.info. Free. 6 p.m. to bar close. Saturday, December 20 —Patrick Strait

La Natividad In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

This December, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre brings back their popular bilingual holiday show filled with music and puppetry. La Natividad, which is based on the Mexican tradition of las posadas, carries a political message with it, as it portrays Mary and Joseph as immigrants who struggle each day to survive. They are forced to go to Bethlehem to be counted for the census, but are stopped by the evil King Herod, who has erected a barbed-wire fence. The show takes place in numerous locations, and invites the audience to participate in a processional that begins at Las Mojarras restaurant (across the street from the theater), stops at In the Heart of the Beast's Avalon Theatre, and ends at St. Paul's Fellowship Hall, a church near the theater that has a large Latino membership. The audience eventually joins in with a choir of angels, who break down the border fence as Mary and Joseph are welcomed to the other side. The performance ends in a fiesta with more live music, puppets, and revelry. $16-$22. 6:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays (no Friday, December 12 show). 1500 E. Lake St., Minneapolis; 612-721-2535. December 11 through 21 —Sheila Regan

Saint Paul Winter Carnival Various locations

Snow queens, frozen runners, ice sculptures, and a hidden medallion are just a few of the draws of the annual Saint Paul Winter Carnival. With a history dating back to the late 1800s, the celebration is one of the largest and most fun winter events of the year. While pretty much every festival uses the tagline "something for everyone," this happening actually delivers on that promise. Parades, live entertainment, the Securian Winter Run, and the Beer Dabbler are just a few of the fun things happening in downtown St. Paul, giving you plenty of ways to help soldier through the heart of winter. The highlight of the event is the treasure hunt for the medallion, which is worth up to $10,000 and has been an annual tradition since 1952. Each year, the Pioneer Press publishes clues as to its whereabouts, somewhere on public land in Ramsey County. This festival is such a blast that it just might make you forget about how cold it is outside. Maybe. For a complete schedule, visit www.winter-carnival.com. January 22 through February 1 —Patrick Strait

City of Lakes Loppet: Urban Cross Country Ski Festival Lake Calhoun

When it comes to being active in the wintertime, no one is more bad-ass than Minnesotans. There is no better example of this than the City of Lakes Loppet Festival. Packed with events for winter enthusiasts of all ages and athletic backgrounds, the event offers cross-country skiing, snow cycling, dogsled racing, and beer tasting (what's a Minnesota festival without beer?). The three-day gathering boasts 21 different winter happenings and more than 10,000 participants, proving that sub-zero temperatures are no reason to stay indoors. If strapping on skis isn't your thing, the Loppet also includes a Swedish lawn-game competition called Captain Ken's Kubb Tournament and a massive snow sculpting contest, plus food trucks and a beer garden to keep you fueled up for the weekend. Sign up soon if you're thinking about participating, as last year's festival attracted a record number of skiers, and this year is likely to be even bigger. For more info, visit www.loppet.org/cityoflakesloppet. 3000 Calhoun Pkwy.; Minneapolis. January 30 through February 1 —Patrick Strait

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Dance and Visual Arts Events

Chris Schlichting: Stripe Tease Walker Art Center

For "Stripe Tease," Chris Schlichting, named Best Choreographer by City Pages in 2013, collaborates with visual artist Jennifer Davis and Alpha Consumer, a band made up of local favorites Mike Lewis and JT Bates, plus Andrew Bird's guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker. The show should be an interesting mix, as Schlichting's idiosyncratic style utilizes repetition and patterns, Davis's work is whimsical and colorful, and Alpha Consumer's sound is experimental. Co-presented with the National Performance Network, the world premiere was commissioned by the Walker Art Center, and will deconstruct dance history in surprising ways by providing a nuanced and layered experience. $25. 8 p.m. 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-375-7600. February 19-21 —Sheila Regan

WonderWomen Katherine E. Nash Gallery

"WonderWomen," a group exhibition at the Nash, comes hot on the heeled boots of Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman, a remarkable work of historical investigation in which the glass ceiling meets the invisible airplane by way of suffragists, feminists, mythology, and Margaret Sanger. Participants range from cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch Out For, Fun Home) to conceptual artist Barbara Kruger. The mission: to present work by women artists inspired by comics, animation, and popular culture. Wonder Woman herself (as embodied by Lynda Carter) makes an appearance in video work by Dara Birnbaum. Other artists peer into issues of nationalism, identity, reality, and politics using textiles, photography, watercolor, figurines, knitting needles, and performance. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul will be screening topical works. As Wonder Woman would say: "Thunderbolts of Jove!" There will be a closing reception and a fashion show with live music from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, February 14. 405 21st Ave. S., Regis Center for Art, Minneapolis; 612-624-6518. January 20 through February 14, 2015 —Camille LeFevre

The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe's Greatest Dynasty Minneapolis Institute of Arts

For the first major exhibit of its 100th anniversary year, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts will host "The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe's Greatest Dynasty." The show offers a closer look at this fascinating family, whose influence spanned centuries, through the lavish and extravagant objects they collected to demonstrate their prestige and power. Focusing on three periods in which the Habsburgs flourished, the collection starts in the 13th century with Maximilian I. The next section covers the 17th and 18th centuries, with heiress Maria Theresa eventually becoming the last ruler from the dynasty. The final period examines the demise of the Holy Roman Empire in the early 19th century, and the establishment of Austria-Hungary, which included the long reign of Emperor Franz Joseph (from the House of Habsburg-Lorraine) and the founding of the Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum (who also helped organize the show). This exhibition is ticketed, check online for times and prices. 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-870-3131. February 15 through May 10, 2015 —Sheila Regan

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Theater

Oliver! Pantages Theatre

Theatre Latte Da and the Hennepin Theatre Trust are teaming up for another round of Broadway Re-Imagined. Following up last year's explosive Cabaret comes Oliver!, a musical version of Oliver Twist that features a well-known score (such as "Food, Glorious Food" and "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two"), and all the familiar action of the Charles Dickens original. Latte Da's version, under the direction of Peter Rothstein, features Bradley Greenwald as Fagin. Apart from possessing one of the Twin Cities' most-powerful voices, Greenwald is the kind of actor who digs into the nooks and crannies of what could be a stock villain to make something much bigger than the parts in Lionel Bart's creation. The production is further strengthened by the Minnesota Boychoir, playing the chorus of orphans in the workhouse. In previews through Friday, February 6. $31-$45. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 1-800-982-2787. February 4 through March 1 —Ed Huyck

A Midsummer Night's Dream Guthrie Theater

Two decades ago, Joe Dowling announced his entrance as the head of the Guthrie Theater with a dazzling re-imagining of Shakespeare's beloved romantic comedy. As his tenure comes to a close, Dowling will revisit the work for a second time (it was also remounted 10 years ago). Things have changed quite a bit over the past two decades, including the Guthrie moving from its longtime perch by the Walker Art Center to its big blue digs downtown on the Mississippi River. Whether the hard-rocking elves and Minnesotan-like Rude Mechanicals will return for the latest version is still to be seen, but the play's wild times in the woods, as multiple couples search for love and happiness in the spaces between our world and the fairy world, are certain to remain. Dowling will be joined by David Bolger, who earned well-deserved kudos for his choreography on another Guthrie production, H.M.S. Pinafore. $29-$72. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays; 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. There will also be additional matinees throughout the run. 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis; 612-377-2224. February 7 through March 29 —Ed Huyck

A Bright New Boise Open Eye Figure Theatre

The over-achieving folks behind the Loudmouth Collective get into the post-seasonal spirit this January with a black comedy about the blue-vest-wearing souls who toil at a struggling craft store in Idaho. Will hopes to reconnect with the son he never knew, and maybe find his faith again after a scandal rocks his former church. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter, whose The Whale was recently produced locally by Walking Shadow Theatre Company, earned an Obie (the Off-Broadway Tony Award) for A Bright New Boise. The company features Zachary D. Garcia, Anna Hickey, Spencer Harrison Levin, Karen Wiese-Thompson, and Adam Whisner. Loudmouth Collective founder Natalie Novacek directs. $10-$15. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays. 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis; 612-643-1231. January 16-25 —Ed Huyck

2 Sugars, Room for Cream Park Square Theatre

Calm your New Year's hangover with some hot and rich comedy from Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool, who will return to the coffee pot for another run of their popular show. Throughout the piece, the pair play a variety of women meeting over drinks. That could entail a chance run-in at a coffee shop and a discussion of Fifty Shades of Grey, or an encounter at a high school reunion between a pair of classmates that ends with a boozy trip down memory lane in the parking lot. Through it all, the pair provides plenty of humor and pathos in the various sketches. The quality (the duo won an Ivey award for their performances) of the material should play well in Park Square's new, intimate Andy Boss Thrust Stage. $38-$58. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 20 W. Seventh Pl., St. Paul; 651-291-7005. January 2-18 —Ed Huyck

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Music Events

Forged Artifacts Showcase Triple Rock Social Club

While the majors brace themselves for another slump this holiday season, 2014 has been a great year for the Twin Cities' micro label community. Forged Artifacts has a diverse roster, handpicked by owner Matt Linden, and top-shelf aesthetics on its vinyl and CDs. While not a household name yet, Linden's label has a partnership with indie powerhouse FrenchKiss records, and has released a few national LPs to complement its Minnesota offerings. Surf-punk psychos France Camp will show off some of their trippy new material, while psych-pop savant Rupert Angeleyes will take the headlining slot. The latter's new album, Young Sunset, is a perfect slice of candy-coated paisley that should make for a fun live show. Off-roster riot grrls Kitten Forever will open the night up with the help of the power-pop revivalists in Real Numbers. $8. 9 p.m. Saturday, December 6. 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis. —Zach McCormick

Jingle Ball Xcel Energy Center

'Tis the season for corporate radio behemoth Clear Channel to roll its massive holiday package of stars through the Twin Cities. For fans of Top 40 pop, the Jingle Ball is a seasonal treat, one of the few truly old-school revue-style showcases still consistently touring every year. Regulars know exactly what to expect at this point: a few abbreviated sets from three or four A-List pop stars propping up a night full of has-beens and up-and-comers who need a little seasonal boost in record sales. This year's lineup features two "maturing" teen idols in Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato, as well as Iggy Azaela and hit machine OneRepublic, along with "All About that Bass" singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor, who might add a fun wrinkle. Rounding out the "Wait, who?" category is Nico & Vinz ("Am I Wrong"), balletic Cannuck Keisza, Beiber 2.0 Shawn Mendes, and Brits Jessie J and Rita Ora. $52. 7:30 p.m. Monday, December 8. 199 W. Kellogg Blvd., St Paul. —Zach McCormick

Doomtree Blowout X Various locations

Blowout X is bound to be the most bittersweet of all the underground hip-hop hometown throwdowns that Doomtree has hosted in the past 10 years. Bittersweet, because the local collective claims that this will be the final event in a series that has taken them from the Varsity Theater to a weeklong mini-festival as their stock has risen. P.O.S., Dessa, and friends have put together one hell of a swan song. Blowout X begins with a sold-out show at the Turf Club on Saturday, followed by a mysterious collaboration with Surly Brewing on Sunday to unveil a signature beer. Monday brings a set of Doomtree-affiliated side projects at Icehouse, Tuesday is an all-ages set at the Triple Rock, while Wednesday brings the collective back to their roots at the Varsity. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday will mark the group's final stand at their favorite Blowout locale, First Avenue, with a bonus performance at MPR's UBS Forum. Prices and times vary. Saturday, December 6 through Saturday, December 13. Check doomtree.net/events for more details. —Zach McCormick

12 Rods First Avenue

Over a decade after their star started to fade, onetime Minneapolis college radio darlings 12 Rods are set to make a triumphant comeback at the First Avenue mainroom, with nearly all of the original cast returning. With a challenging sound that walked a difficult line between '60s pop and angular post-rock experimentalism, 12 Rods were the kind of cult local band that got briefly huge but sold only a handful of records. Like any good cult band, their influence is just starting to be felt, nearly 12 years after their landmark release Lost Time. Bon Iver's Justin Vernon is a fan, and he's thrown his support behind the reunion in addition to re-releasing Lost Time on his Chigliak Records imprint. The one-off reunion will act as a celebration of the band's legacy as well as a release show for the new reissue. $20. 8 p.m. Friday, January 16. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis. —Zach McCormick

Sam Smith Roy Wilkins Auditorium

The Brits have been cranking out pop stars with interesting stories and intense fascinations with American soul and R&B sounds for more than a decade now, and Sam Smith is the heir apparent. Following in the footsteps of Adele and the late, great Amy Winehouse, Smith has taken the former's smoky soul and the later's diva dramatics and put his own achingly vulnerable, gospel-tinged twist on the formula. The singer's massive, world-beating single "Stay With Me" netted him the second-best-selling record of the year, a suite of Euro-industry awards, and even a few critical raves. Like Adele, he's a bit of an odd bird for a pop singer. As an openly gay man who struggles with an intense OCD disorder, he's definitely got some real pain to draw on for his musical intensity. $49.50/$85. 8 p.m. Saturday, January 24. 175 W. Kellogg Blvd., St Paul. —Zach McCormick