Christmas is a festive time in Chicago. From the annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival to the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza, which serves my favorite holiday drink, hot spiced wine from a boot-shaped mug, Chicago is full of Christmas events. Here are some of the best things to do and see in Chicago this holiday season.
Ice Skating at Millennium Park - Come out and skate for free under some of Chicago's most impressive skyscrapers. This outdoor skating rink is open daily through March 2012. Skate rentals are available for $10. Tip: Afterwards have lunch or dinner at the Park Grill located behind the rink.
Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony - Chicago kicks off its holiday season with its annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in Daley Plaza, weather permitting.
McDonald's Thanksgiving Day Parade - This annual favorite that attracts almost a half a million spectators and starts off on State Street at 8:30 a.m. and includes marching bands, holiday-themed floats, and gigantic inflatable helium balloons (similar to what you see in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York City). The route is State Street from Congress to Randolph. Can't make it out to the parade? No problem. WGN Channel 9 will broadcast the parade.
Lincoln Square Christkindlmarket - St. Matthias Parish officials made an executive decision to stop the Lincoln Square Christkindlmarket—at least until a more cost-effective plan can be applied to the annual event.
Christkindlmarket Chicago - The Christkindlmarket is Chicago's largest open-air Christmas festival and includes European arts and crafts, as well as brats, spiced wine and other German specialties. The only downside to this year's market will be the city's Christmas tree. Due to budget cuts, the tree will be considerably smaller this year. Normally, the tree is comprised of several large Christmas trees. This year, it will just be one tree, at least that is what I have heard. The Christkindlmarket is open daily through December 24, 2012 at Chicago's Daley Plaza.
Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic - The Brookfield Zoo celebrates the holiday season with its Holiday Magic event that includes almost one million twinkling lights, as well as animated light displays and a laser light show. Many of the zoo's indoor exhibits will be open for viewing animals, including the zoo's Great Bear Wilderness.
Macy's Holiday Windows Display - IMacy's on State Street is one of the largest department stores in the world and is a Chicago holiday shopping tradition with its famed holiday window displays (The original Marshall Field's where Macy's is today was the first store to ever feature holiday windows.), as well as its 45-foot Great Tree decorated with over 1,200 themed ornaments and 25,000 lights in the department store's Walnut Room..
CTA Holiday Train - The Chicago Transit Authority is getting into the holiday spirit with its popular Holiday Train. Santa and his elves will ride the train passing out candy canes and season's greetings.
Lincoln Park Zoo ZooLights - Each year the Lincoln Park Zoo decorates its grounds and trees with mult-colored lights and animal figures. ZooLights is free and is sponsored by ComEd. Activities include ice carving demonstrations, photos with Santa, and more.
Shedd Aquarium Holiday Breakfasts - The Shedd Holiday Breakfasts are back, along with special holiday jazz concerts and more. Treat the family to a special holiday experience where after a full breakfast, it’s “All aboard!” for a private viewing of the 15-minute The Polar Express 4-D Experience, followed by a drawing for special prizes. The holiday fun continues during a visit with Santa. Explore Shedd’s Polar Play Zone and finish your special day with reserved seats to A Holiday Fantasea..
Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light - This holiday exhibition features over 50 trees and displays that are decorated by members of ethnic communities across the city to reflect holiday customs from all over the world. Held at the Museum of Science and Industry (57th Street & Lake Shore Drive). Admission is $15 for adults; $14 for seniors; and $10 for children 3-11.
Chicago Greeter Program - The Chicago Greeter's Magnificent Mile InstaGreeter service offers hour-long walks of festive North Michigan Avenue and surrounding areas led by knowledgeable locals. Your Greeter guide will give you an insider's look at the historic Streeterville and Gold Coast neighborhoods; landmarks such as the John Hancock Center and the former Playboy Mansion, historic hotels and cathedrals; and best bets for holiday shopping. The walks are free and are available on Fridays and Saturdays between 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis at the Water Works Visitor Information Center, 163 E. Pearson Street.
Nutcracker with the Joffrey Ballet - This holiday tradition performed by Chicago's Joffrey Ballet is performed at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress Parkway. Tickets range from $15 - $125.
Holiday Events at the Morton Arboretum - Several holiday events are going on at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, including an "Enchanted Railroad" with model trains of different colors and styles; holiday shopping with more than 2,000 nature-inspired books for adults and children, jewelry, art, and attire; and Breakfast with Santa. Note: This story will be updated with 2012-2013 soon.
Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier - Navy Pier's winter festival that includes a castle, ice skating, and holiday entertainment. More details coming soon.