9 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Chicago This Year

Meredith Francis
You can see this year's Illumination at the Morton Arboretum from the car. Photo: Courtesy of the Morton Arboretum

The holidays are going to look different this year. But there are still ways to safely get a healthy dose of holiday cheer both in person and virtually in Chicago. Check out our round-up of holiday events that offer just that. Since things can change pretty quickly these days, please be sure to double-check all events before attending. 

Christkindlmarket Virtual Marketplace

November 1 – December 31

ChristkindlmarketPhoto: Rebecca Peplinksi/Flickr

The beloved Christkindlmarket won’t be in Daley Plaza or Wrigleyville this year, but it is going virtual. Check out vendors selling ornaments, art, hot chocolate mix, and more to get your holiday shopping done online. Don’t worry, you can still order your boot mug.

Art on the Mart: Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker 

November 12 – December 30, 7:00 and 7:30 p.m.

Joffrey Ballet NutcrackerPhoto: Cheryl Mann/Joffrey Ballet

While there may not be any in-person performances this year, the Joffrey Ballet is teaming up with Art on the Mart for a 30-minute animated digital display of The Nutcracker, projected onto the south facade of the Merchandise Mart and paired with Tchaikovsky’s score. This fall’s Art on the Mart also features the Art Institute of Chicago’s Monet in Chicago and Bisa Butler: Portraits exhibits. The projection also includes art from artists living with developmental disabilities. If you plan to view the display on the Riverwalk, face coverings are required, and no more than 100 people are allowed on the jetty at a time. For an added dose of Nutcracker magic, watch WTTW’s documentary about the making of the Joffrey Ballet’s version of the holiday classic. 

City of Chicago Christmas Tree

November 20 – January 7

City of Chicago Christmas TreePhoto: City of Chicago

There isn't a public tree-lighting ceremony this year, but you can still stop by the City of Chicago’s Christmas Tree in Millennium Park. The family of Catherine Townsend of Morgan Park donated this year’s 45-foot blue spruce. 

Illumination at the Morton Arboretum 

November 20 – January 3

Illumination at the Morton ArboretumPhoto: Courtesy of the Morton Arboretum

See Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum, which has been reinvented with safety in mind. This year, you can see the dazzling display of lights from the warmth and comfort of your own car. The 30- to 40-minute driving experience will take you through the display’s light and color, accompanied by plenty of holiday tunes. Tickets with timed entry are required. 


November 21 – January 3

Lincoln Park Zoo LightsPhoto: Christopher Bijalba/Lincoln Park Zoo

ZooLights are still going to be illuminated in the Lincoln Park Zoo this year. Bundle up and walk among millions of lights, featuring 3D light displays, a light maze, and an “Enchanted Forest.” To ensure capacity limits, $5 tickets are required, and all of the animal buildings will remain closed. Face coverings are required. 

The Charlie Brown Holiday Specials on PBS 

Sunday, November 22, 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 13, 6:30 p.m.

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

This year, the classic Peanuts specials have moved to Apple TV+ and PBS. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving will air on PBS on Sunday, November 22 at 6:30 p.m., and A Charlie Brown Christmas will air on Sunday, December 13 at 6:30 p.m. If you’re an Apple TV+ subscriber, get the streaming information here

Be A Part of the Light 2020 

December 5, 12, and 19

Christmas lightsPhoto: aka CJ/Flickr

My Block My Hood My City is once again lighting up King Drive, with the goal of decorating 12 miles: 500 homes and 500 street poles from 35th to 115th streets. Residents can sign up below to receive lights during Be A Part Of The Light 2020 and a $25 subsidy for electrical bills. The kickoff event is December 5, but check the schedule for other dates and for volunteer opportunities. Masks and gloves are required. Not a resident or unable to volunteer? You can always get in your car and drive the 12-mile stretch once the lights are up.

Ballet Chicago’s Nutcracker 

December 18 – December 30

NutcrackersPhoto: Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr

Ballet Chicago is also providing its virtual take on The Nutcracker, in two ways. The first includes a historical archive streamed via Zoom. The second “will include dancers from its current roster, with twelve restaged and socially disanced dances to be safely filmed at the Athenaeum Theater.” That footage will then be inserted into the historical footage and also streamed via Zoom. Tickets are required. (Note: The restaged performances may be subject to change pending state stay-at-home guidelines.) 

Ice Skating 

Various Dates

Ice SkatingPhoto: anncapictures/Pixabay

Still want to lace up your skates this winter? The Maggie Daley Park ice skating ribbon is still open, though reservations and masks are required. More reservation dates are released periodically.