It already feels like winter in Chicago, so it’s time to break out the mittens, lace up the skates, and fill your mug with hot cocoa—though not necessarily in that order. Here are just some of the things you can do around Chicagoland this holiday season.
November 22, 6:00 p.m.
The city officially kicks off the holiday season with the annual Christmas tree lighting in Millennium Park. This year’s celebration features performances by singer Jonathan Butler, a modern Mariachi band called Cielito Lindo, and an appearance by the big man himself, Santa.
November 22–January 5
Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe
See breathtaking light displays, including a dazzling tunnel of light and “singing trees,” at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. This event requires tickets.
If you haven’t had your fill of lights, head to the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival on November 22 and 23. Friday features family-friendly activities, including a visit from Santa. On Saturday, enjoy more holiday activities, live music, and the parade, starting at Oak Street and going along Michigan Avenue to the Chicago River. The day ends with a fireworks show at the River at 6:55 p.m. See the schedule of events here.
November 23–January 5, 4:30–9:30 p.m. (see calendar for closed dates)
Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL
These aren’t your average Christmas trees. See the dazzling lights at the Morton Arboretum. A one-mile path features lighting effects and digital projection on the arboretum’s many types of trees, as well as holiday tunes. You can also stop by fire pits and warm up with a cozy hot beverage. This event requires tickets.
November 28, 8:00–11:00 a.m.
State Street, between Congress and Randolph
Since it comes a little late in the season this year, don’t forget Thanksgiving in all your holiday celebrations. The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade starts at 8:00 a.m., with floats, balloons, performers, and marching bands.
November 29, 2019, 10:00–10:30 a.m.
Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.
See the Art Institute Lions get all decked out for the holidays with the annual Wreathing of the Lions. The Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus will perform, and free hot chocolate will be served. Then, you can warm up inside and see the famous miniature Thorne Rooms, which are also in the holiday spirit with their pint-sized Christmas décor. Tickets are required to enter the Art Institute.
November 29, December 6, 13, and 20, 6:00 p.m.
Millennium Park, Cloud Gate
It’s bean-ginning to look a lot like Christmas at Cloud Gate. Four local choirs will serenade the Bean (and the crowd) at these free sing-along concert events on the Fridays leading up to Christmas.
November 29–January 5, 4:30–9:00 p.m.
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St.
See the extravagant light displays at the Lincoln Park Zoo for this free holiday tradition. Take in the light shows, snack on some holiday favorites, and see live ice sculpture carving.
Now through January 5
Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive
Travel the world at the Museum of Science and Industry’s display that explores how cultures all around the world celebrate holidays. Enjoy a display of more than 50 trees—including one four-story grand tree. If you visit on the weekends, you’ll also catch a live holiday performance. Tickets are required to enter the museum.
December 1, 1:00–6:00 p.m. (see schedule for more lighting events)
Nat King Cole Park
Want to show off your holiday flair? My Block My Hood My City is lighting up King Drive again this year, helping to decorate 250 homes from 51st to 115th streets—8 miles of Christmas cheer. Residents can sign up for a $25 subsidy for their electric bills. The event kicks off on Sunday, December 1 with home decorating, music, a tree lighting ceremony, and more. See the schedule for more lighting events. You can volunteer to help decorate, too.
Get ahead on your shopping list at one of Chicago’s many holiday markets. There’s the always-popular Christkindlmarket, with locations at Daley Plaza, Gallagher Way, and in Milwaukee. Visit the Chicago Artisan Market in the West Loop on December 1. (This event requires tickets.) The Renegade Craft Fair is at the Bridgeport Art Center on December 7–8. The Randolph Street Holiday Market returns on December 14–15. (This event requires tickets).
Chicago has no shortage of holiday productions. There’s the Joffrey Ballet’s always-dazzling The Nutcracker. (You can explore the making of the Joffrey’s latest production in a WTTW documentary and website.) White Christmas is playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre from December 10–15. Then there’s the go-to A Christmas Carol, playing at the Goodman Theatre now until December 29. If you’d like a little more snark with your holiday spirit, the Goodman is also showing The Santaland Diaries, based on a David Sedaris essay. If you’re looking for your favorite holiday music, head to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Merry, Merry Chicago! with performances by the Chicago Symphony Chorus and special guests. And if you want to get participatory, the Music Box is playing its annual Sing-A-Long and Double Feature, where audience members croon along with Bing Crosby during White Christmas or ring their bells to It’s a Wonderful Life.
Don’t be afraid to let go of the rail and wobble your way towards winter fun in your ice skates. Try out the Maggie Daley Park Ice Skating Ribbon, or the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. If you’re planning to swing by ZooLights, you can also hit the ice at the Lincoln Park Zoo rink. The new Gallagher Way also has its own ice rink as part of its larger Winterland. There are also lots of city parks that have ice rinks open in the winter, like the McKinley Park Skating Rink.