Festive fun on a budget

Celebrate the holiday with a full wallet, courtesy of A&E’s guide to seasonal free events.

by Brenda Tran

With the Thanksgiving holiday over and December already here, holiday season is in full swing. And that means college students are in the awkward limbo of deciding between studying for exams and online window-shopping for gifts on Amazon. (The latter usually prevails.) 
Nothing is more vexing than being on a college-kid budget in December — but luckily, Twin Cities holiday festivals don’t have to drain your pocketbooks. Here are some dirt-cheap options:
Wells Fargo WinterSkate 
Nothing says holiday fun like an artificially chilled ice skating rink smack dab in the middle of downtown St. Paul. WinterSkate provides winter festivities with a historic backdrop: Who needs Rockefeller Center when you have the Landmark Center? 
Lack of ice skating experience is inexcusable — professional figure skating coaches are available from 11 a.m. to noon on select days. Wells Fargo debit and credit card holders get double the fun with free skate rentals. 
Where: Downtown St. Paul (outside the Landmark Center), 75 W. Fifth St., St. Paul
When: Hours vary Nov. 21-Feb. 7
Cost: Free, $4 for skate rental
CSE Winter Light Show 
The CSE Winter Light Show is the perfect destination for the holiday-loving Gopher too lazy to leave campus. The annual spectacle is a collaborative effort between the College of Science and Engineering, the School of Music and the Carlson School of Management. The extravagant show circles around the entire Civil Engineering Plaza; it’s only a half hour long, but there’s no denying the entertainment value of a large display of colorful lights flashing in sync with music.
Where: Civil Engineering Plaza, 500 Pillsbury Dr. SE
When5:306 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4-5 and 10-12
Cost: Free
Break the Ice
Chabad U of M and Minnesota Hillel present the third annual Chanukah on Ice. The event coordinators are well aware of the college kid bait: free skate rental, free musical entertainment and free food — candle-lighting ceremony included. DJ Teddy Skillings will be spinning the tracks, and Minnesota Chai Notes A Capella will perform later in the night. A solid variety of kosher treats are on the menu: fresh latkes, traditional sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) and hot apple cider. 
Where: Mariucci Arena, 1901 4th St. SE, Minneapolis
When7-9 p.m. Dec. 9
Cost: Free
European Christmas Market
Green Line over to Union Depot for the second annual European Christmas Market and pretend you teleported to a traditional Christkindlmarkt. Native to Germany, Austria, Northern Italy and Eastern France, Christmas markets date as far back as the late Middle Ages. Shop for handmade gifts and decorations from local vendors and get a taste of European food and drink. Free entertainment is included with the festivities; hang out with Santa, watch the Peer Gynt Norwegian Dancers and listen to the Tiny Christmas Elves while you’re at it. 
Where: Union Depot, 214 E. 4th St., St. Paul
WhenDec. 4-6
Cost: Free 
Winter Solstice Celebration
Swing by the American Swedish Institute (ASI) on the longest night of the winter. 
Expect a celebration in true Swedish fashion, with bonfires and Scandinavian-inspired s’mores. Explore holiday exhibits and look for the trolls and tomtes (Scandinavian elves) hidden throughout Turnblad Mansion. 
Afterward, hit up the cafe for treats and glogg (Swedish mulled wine), or check out the museum store for some last-minute holiday shopping.
Where: American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis
When3-8 p.m. Dec. 22
Cost: Free for ASI members, $10 for students