As the temperatures drop in Chicago, seasonal holiday festivals fire up. Everything from autumnal comfort drinks to winter wonderland fantasies can be found throughout the city in the next couple of months, so pull out your calendar to make sure you don’t miss a single one.
Take in a beautiful and unique rendition of The Nutcracker at the Chopin Theatre. Their show is notoriously ballet-free, fast-paced and family-friendly for all. They offer an alternative to the stiff tradition while still maintaining the story’s beauty, fantasy, and naiveté.
For more than 20 years, the wildly popular Christkindlmarket has returned to Chicago’s Daley Plaza for each holiday season. Inspired by the German Christmas markets that have operated in Europe for more than 500 years, it opens daily beginning at 11 am. Tourists and residents alike love coming to Chicago’s version to eat traditional German food, drink novelty hot chocolate, and browse local craft vendors for ornaments, trinkets, and other holiday gifts.
Every year on the weekend before Thanksgiving, head to ‘Chicago’s Front Lawn’ to officially kick off the holiday season. The annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is free and features live music; it starts at 6 pm. Afterward, strap on your skates for the opening day of ice skating at Tribune McCormick Ice Rink. It’s all weather permitting, so make sure to cross your fingers and hope for snow (and not rain)!
Join thousands of people along Michigan Avenue for the crowd favorite Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. The fest expands to two days, and from 4-8 pm on Friday, enjoy kid-friendly holiday activities at Lights Festival Lane in Pioneer Court. And on Saturday, the activities and fun start at 11 am back at Pioneer Court, and the parade kicks off at 5:30 pm. It travels down Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to Wacker Drive and illuminates more than one million lights along the way. Expect to see Santa Claus with his elves and Mickey and Minnie Mouse leading the parade.
Bundle up and head downtown before your turkey dinner for the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade in the Loop. It’s been delighting Chicago since 1934 and takes place yearly from 8-11 am. The parade heads north on State Street from Congress Parkway to Randolph Street and features more than 5,000 participants and performers. It’s a longtime tradition that Chicago loves to be a part of year after year. And if you can’t make it downtown to see the parade in person, remember that it always airs on WGN 9 Chicago.
November 25-27; December 2-4, 9-23, 26-31, 2016; January 1, 2017
Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the cheapest places in Chicago year-round for some solid family fun, given that it’s free of charge and open 365 days a year. But the Zoo Lights are something special. On select days, stay after hours from 4:30-9 pm to see the zoo light up in all its holiday glory. They have ice sculpture carvings, light shows set to carols, and free kids crafts happening each night. Grab a mug of cocoa, start walking, and get into the Christmas spirit.
The Goodman Theatre delights Chicago every year with this holiday tradition. Experience the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future along with Scrooge in a mesmerizing live performance of A Christmas Carol.
The Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibit started in 1942 with just one tree honoring America’s allies in World War II. Today, the exhibit centers on a 45-foot grand tree surrounded by 50 smaller trees, decorated for international cultures. See it during regular museum hours.
Much like Chicagoland’s other zoo, suburban Brookfield Zoo presents its annual Holiday Magic fest. It requires after-hours admission to the zoo to see the more than one million twinkling lights, but all the animal exhibits remain open for viewing. Also enjoy plenty of kid-friendly activities and snacks zoo-wide. Plenty of photo opportunities and Christmas magic moments will abound.
The Navy Pier Winter Wonderfest is another classic family-friendly holiday event that your kids won’t want to miss. An indoor event, it’s spread over 170,000 square feet and features an ice rink and more than 25 rides and slides for maximum Christmas fun. Take professional photos with Santa, enjoy themed holiday treats, and marvel at all the Christmas décor. Tickets are required for all persons taller than 36 inches.
This one is all about the holiday shopping. From 12-6 pm, hit up the West Town Winterfest. In that time frame, do your holiday shopping on participating West Town retail blocks for special sales, promotions, and gifts. You can also book a seat on the guided Jolly Trolley tour; you’ll be driven around for three hours without having to walk and lug all your new perfect presents. And after the shopping comes to a close, adults can join the Division Street ‘Naughty List’ After Party Stroll.
American Blues Theater presents It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago at The Greenhouse Theater Center. The performance embodies a live 1940s radio broadcast of one of the most classic Christmas tales. The cast recreates scenes from Frank Capra’s iconic film using sound effects with live music and singing. It’s truly a unique experience in a sea of traditional holiday theater.
The Adler Planetarium throws a monthly after-hours party for those over the age of 21, and every event sells out. Each one has a different theme, such as the 1920s, The Beatles, Weird Science and more. Your ticket gets you access to the whole museum, special screenings and lectures, light refreshments and plenty of live music. In December, visit Lights Out, and in January, fire up your Retrorocket.
The City of Chicago presents Chi-Town Rising, the Windy City’s answer to New York City’s and Los Angeles’ long-standing New Year’s Eve celebrations. Ring in 2017 in downtown Chicago at a free community event. Starting at 8 pm, watch fireworks, party with friends, experience live music and see a massive star rise along a skyscraper at the stroke of midnight. According to their website, Chi-Town Rising believes that ‘Chicagoans don’t drop the ball, we rise to meet the challenges and opportunities of the New Year head-on.’