Festive Chicago Cheat Sheet: 8 Must-Do Holiday Events

Holiday time in Chicago might make you think that “Silver Bells” was written about this city. Thanks to charming touches ranging from the elegant, white-lit trees lining Michigan Avenue to the new-ish tradition of caroling at Cloud Gate, the city becomes a genuinely magical place. And, If you're anything like us, your calendar is already beyond tight — but you’d be selling yourself short if you didn’t make time to get out and take part in a few amazing, can't-miss seasonal traditions.
Our suggestion: Try swapping cocktail hour with some warm vino at the Christkindlmarket (don't forget the strudel!). And, for gifts that are as fun to give as they are to receive, you can't beat the stellar finds at the One of a Kind Arts Show. Round it all off with the Goodman Theatre’s 25th annual staging of A Christmas Carol, and we think you'll agree — Chicago's officially the capital of holiday cheer. Ahead, eight sparkling events to make this an unforgettable season. Just remember: They're all BYOM (bring your own mistletoe!).
Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Lights
What: From Pilsen to Chinatown to Lincoln Square, Chicago truly is the city of neighborhoods, and no event celebrates our city’s amazing diversity of ethnic holiday traditions like this exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. Launched in 1942 with a single Christmas tree dedicated to the Allies of World War II, Christmas Around the World now features a 45-foot Grand Tree featuring 30,000 lights surrounded by 50 smaller trees, which are decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s many ethnic communities. Enjoy school choirs from across Chicagoland and various ethnic dance troupe performances while you take in trees that celebrate the holidays everywhere, from Belize to the Philippines. Who needs a plane ticket?
When: November 15 through January 6
Where: Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 Lake Shore Drive (at East 57 Street); 773-684-1414.
Skating at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink
What: We haven’t been this excited about hitting the ice since the last time we watched Blades of Glory. One of the most popular Chicago attractions in the winter is the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, which was the first part of Millennium Park to open in 2001. Own your own skates? Admission to the picturesque rink is free, and rentals are $10. And while the rink attracts more than 100,000 skaters a year, it’s lively, not claustrophobic, so even if you don’t venture onto the ice, grab a coffee and belly up to the railing for some of the best people-watching in town.
When: November 16 through mid-March
Where: Millennium Park, 201 East Randolph Street (between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive); 312-742-1168.
A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre
What: A Christmas Carol is, at this point, almost like the theatrical version of the Mona Lisa — you've seen the story presented in so many incarnations, from kids’ plays to cartoons to watered-down sitcom retellings, that the genius of the original work can be lost in the shuffle. But the Goodman Theatre has been selling out its annual holiday presentation of the Dickens’ classic for 35 years by concentrating on bringing out all of the story’s innate drama on the stage. Here, Scrooge, played by Jeff Award-winning actor Larry Yando for the fifth time, is one memorably mean SOB before his epic redemption — just the way Dickens would have wanted him to be.
When: November 17 through December 29
Where: The Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn Street (at Randolph Street); 312.443.3800.
Photos: J.B. Specter, Museum of Science and Industry, Courtesy of City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Liz Lauren/Courtesy of Goodman Theatre
Christkindlmarket Chicago
What: Gutten tag! Since 1996, Chicagoans and tourists alike have flocked to this traditional, authentic German market where you can shop for gifts like clocks made in the Black Forest, Bavarian pewter, and hand-painted glass, as well as presents from other parts of the world, like Ecuadorian Alpaca wool sweaters and Nepalese silver jewelry. But our favorite part of the Christkindlmarket? Make a B-line for the refreshment stands and classic, comfort food like potato pancakes, schnitzel, and spiced wine. Das ist gut! Check the events calendar for special presentations such as live music and a demonstration from pastry guru chef Alain Roby.
When: November 20 through December 24
Where: Daley Plaza, 50 West Washington Street (between Randolph and Washington streets); 312-494-2175.
Caroling at Cloud Gate
What: Whether or not you can croon like Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole, you won't want to miss this wonderful downtown tradition. Head to Cloud Gate — a.k.a. the Bean — in Millennium Park every Friday through December 21 to hear, and occasionally sing along with, a different local choir — from the Chicago Children’s Choir on December 7 to the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, which rounds out the season on December 21. When the performance is over, the party moves to the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink for skating.
When: Fridays at 6 p.m. from November 23 through December 21
Where: Chase Promenade Central at Millennium Park, 201 East Randolph Street (between Michigan and Columbus avenues); 312-742-1168.
Zoo Lights Presented by ComEd and Charter One
What: This one is as simple as it is great: Every year the Lincoln Park Zoo adorns itself in more than two million brilliant holiday lights. What can we say, maybe the only thing better than walking through the zoo on a gorgeous and warm summer day is walking through it among so many dazzling lights on a gorgeous winter cold one. You just never know what kind of illuminated, larger-than-life, animal sculptures, lit tunnels, or light shows you’ll be in store for at this Chicago classic. Feeling trippy? Each night the zoo hands out free 3-D glasses to the first 1,000 visitors for an even wilder visual experience.
When: November 23 through January 6
Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 North Clark Street (at Armitage Avenue); 312-742-2000.
One of a Kind Show
What: Nothing says you care like a genuinely thoughtful present. If you’re looking for a special gift for a loved one this year, head to the One of a Kind Show at the Merchandise Mart, where more than 600 artists from across North America display beautiful handmade clothes, jewelry, ceramics, sculpture, glass and more. Loved ones will be wowed when they open up a handmade, beach-glass necklace or an heirloom-worthy ceramic pitcher, which are, well, one of a kind. Take a break from shopping with artist demonstrations, workshops, gourmet cafes, and live music.
When: December 6 through 9
Where: Merchandise Mart, 222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza (between North Lower Orleans and Wells streets); 312-527-4141.
Nutcracker at the Joffrey Ballet
What: Today, Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker ballet is beloved around the world, but when it debuted in St. Petersberg in 1892, it was met with dismal reviews. Oh, how times have changed. Since the ’60s, the Nutcracker has become one of the great holiday traditions — and, lucky for you, one of the world’s most famous productions originates right here in town. The Joffrey’s version of Nutcracker, choreographed by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, tours more widely than any other in the country. You can see the magnificent ballet, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, at the Joffrey’s home base, the splendid Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University. The Chicago Philharmonic will provide live music through December.
When: December 7 through 27
Where: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 East Congress Parkway (at South Wabash Avenue); 312-386-8905.
Photos: Courtesy of Christkindlmarket Chicago, Courtesy of the One of a Kind Show and Sale Chicago, Herbert Migdoll

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