Thanksgiving in the Willmar Lakes Area

By Bailey Hovland

It’s 7:00 a.m. The earliest riser of the family is in the kitchen, carefully putting the finishing touches on the turkey before its four-hour roast in the oven. The rest of the family is either starting to wake or already on their way, packed in a car destined for whoever volunteered to host Thanksgiving this year. The music from the Macy’s

Two runners take their race to the next level by donning costumes, bringing a bit of festivity to the cold morning dash (photo courtesy of On the Run MN).

Thanksgiving Day Parade echoes from the TV, the first sounds in a house soon to be alive with noise from family members bustling around the kitchen and watching the day’s football games. But in the Willmar Lakes Area, family activities aren’t the only thing people plan their Thanksgiving around.

With plenty of community activities, the Willmar Lakes Area has something for everyone on Thanksgiving Day, starting with the Turkey Leg 5K at the Kandiyohi County Area YMCA in Willmar. At 8:00 a.m., the more active members of the community will line up outside the YMCA to prove their running prowess or preemptively burn off the calories from the following Thanksgiving meal. Runners can preregister at the YMCA or online at The registration fee is $30, and all preregistered runners and walkers will be guaranteed a t-shirt in their size. People signing up on the day of the race can get their t-shirts on “first come, first serve” basis. The course will be 3.1 miles on the asphalt streets of Willmar, with water at the halfway mark. And walkers are welcome! Awards will be given to the top female and male runners as well as the largest family participating. So convince your family to lace up their running (or walking) shoes and come on out to the YMCA this Thanksgiving Day.

The Goodness and ATLAS serve up a warm Thanksgiving meal to community members, bringing people together through a communal meal (photo courtesy of The Goodness).

In the spirit of gratefulness and giving, The Goodness Coffee House (in downtown Willmar) and ATLAS will be hosting their 4th annual free Thanksgiving Day meal. Beginning at 11:00 a.m., this local coffee shop will be offering a community meal of turkey, baked potatoes, corn, bread, cranberries, and pie. There’s no need to RVSP, and of course, everyone is welcome at The Goodness’ table(s). Carry-out containers will also be available for those who’d rather take their Thanksgiving meal back home. Food will be served until 1:00 p.m. or until it runs out, whichever comes first.

And finally, after you’ve had your fill of mashed potatoes, turkey, and pie, you can head on over to Robbins Island for the season’s opening night of Celebrate the Light of the World. For years, the Koosman family of Willmar hosted this incredible light show, but last year they turned the responsibility of over 800,000 lights to Willmar Fests.

No Thanksgiving table is complete without a plate of lease, at least not in my book. But every family has a unique side that makes their celebration even more special.

From 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. each evening, starting on Thanksgiving, the lights at Robbins Island will dazzle visitors with spectacular displays on the peninsula that reaches into Willmar Lake. Set in synchronization with Christmas music, the lights will be the perfect segue from Thanksgiving Day to the red and green holidays. Donations are always welcome and this year, they’ll help support the Salvation Army of Willmar, the Kandiyohi County Food Shelf, The Link in New London and Habitat for Humanity of West Central Minnesota.

So as the smell of warm pecan pie wafts out of the kitchen, reminding guests that somehow, there is still more food on the way, you can rest assured knowing that you had the greatest Thanksgiving possible. Whether you’re from the area or just visiting some family and friends for the holiday, the Willmar Lakes Area has a few ways to make your Thanksgiving even more special.

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