‘Tis the Season: 10 (And More!) Things to Do for the Holidays in Chicago

Meredith Francis
Museum of Science and Industry
Photo: Museum of Science and Industry

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.

Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

November 22, 6:00 p.m.
Millennium Park

Chicago Christmas TreePhoto: City of Chicago

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.

Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden

November 22–January 5
Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe

LightscapePhoto: Chicago Botanic Garden

See breathtaking light displays, including a dazzling tunnel of light and “singing trees,” at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. This event requires tickets.

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

November 22–23
Michigan Avenue

Magnificent Mile Lights FestivalPhoto: The Magnificent Mile / Facebook

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.

Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum

November 23–January 5, 4:30–9:30 p.m. (see calendar for closed dates)
Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL

Morton ArboretumPhoto: Morton Arboretum

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.

Thanksgiving Parade

November 28, 8:00–11:00 a.m.
State Street, between Congress and Randolph

Chicago Thanksgiving ParadePhoto: Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

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.

28th Annual Wreathing of the Lions

November 29, 2019, 10:00–10:30 a.m.
Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.

Art Institute LionPhoto: Art Institute of Chicago

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.

Caroling at the Bean

November 29, December 6, 13, and 20, 6:00 p.m.
Millennium Park, Cloud Gate

Cloud Gate CarolingPhoto: City of Chicago

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.

ZooLightsPhoto: Lincoln Park Zoo

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.

Christmas Around the World

Now­ through January 5
Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive

Christmas Around the WorldPhoto: Museum of Science and Industry

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.

Light Up King Drive

December 1, 1:00–6:00 p.m. (see schedule for more lighting events)
Nat King Cole Park

King Drive LightsPhoto: My Block My Hood My City

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.

Holiday Markets

ChristkindlmarketPhoto: Eric James Walsh / Christkindlmarket

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).

Holiday Productions

The NutcrackerPhoto: Cheryl Mann / Joffrey Ballet

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.


Ice Skating

Ice Skating in ChicagoPhoto: City of Chicago

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.