We know you're tempted to hide from the cold in your apartment, but there's just so many things to do in Chicago in December. The holiday season means Chicago is buzzing with wintery events, great (though sometimes stressful) shopping, and wonderful shows and concerts. Whether you’re lacing up your skates at Millennium Park or tucking away with a hot cocktail at a cozy bar, there are tons of reasons to make the most of December in Chicago.
RECOMMENDED: Events calendar for Chicago in 2017
Head to the Lincoln Park Zoo to see the lights (and maybe a few animals) at this annual winter tradition. The first 1000 people through the gates each night receive special glasses to view the lights with, but everyone can enjoy nightly ice carving demonstrations, hot beverages and ice skating on the zoo's rink.
Chicago's largest open-air market is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Inspired by a Nuremberg, Germany, market that was founded in 1545, this market features iconic German items like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks and beer steins, as well as hand-blown ornaments and wooden handicrafts. Authentic food (sausages, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, waffles) and drink (beer and Glühwein, a traditional hot spiced wine) are also available, along with assorted sweets.
Navy Pier's annual indoor winter carnival returns with a selection of new activities, including a toboggan tunnel, winter mini golf and a 15-foot "snow tubing" hill. Returning attractions include the Blackhawks ice skating rink and various carnival rides. Kids can also snap a picture with Santa or decorate a cookie.
The Adler Planetarium's monthly 21 and up nighttime event invites adults to explore the Museum Campus attraction while enjoying drinks and entertainment. December, come celebrate the long-awaited release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens to seriously geek out over the epic space saga.
They don't call this four-day market One of a Kind for no reason. A whopping 600 artists from around the country will fill out one floor in the Merchandise Mart for the 15th year of this seasonal showstopper. Take a look at the show's website for a full list of vendors making everything from handpainted ceramic mugs and cool textured pillows to carved wooden bottlestoppers. Pop by the Etsy artist pavilion to wrap your gifts and create custom gift tags for free.
View more than 50 trees and displays at the Museum of Science and Industry's annual "Christmas Around the World" exhibit. Each tree is decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities, representing their diverse culture and holiday customs. School choral groups perform during the week, and song and dance performances take place on the weekends in conjunction with the exhibit.
Christmas in Chicago
Downtown Chicago will erupt with strings of fairy lights this weekend, officially kicking off the city’s holiday season. While the Mag Mile and Millennium Park ceremonies draw the biggest crowds, there are plenty of places ushering in the Yuletide. If you’re in need of a post-election pick-me-up (which, come on—all of us are), a heavy dose of holiday spirit just might do the trick. So be good to yourself and treat yourself to a bit of fuzzy Christmas cheer at these tree-lighting ceremonies. InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile Tree Lighting Ceremony The InterContinental is hosting its very own ceremony, complete with a performance by the American Caroling Company and a never-before-seen video-light display. Christmas is serious business, folks. (Intercontinental Hotel, 505 N Michigan Ave; Nov 17 2:30pm-3:30pm. Free) Tree Lighting at 900 North Michigan During the holidays, 900 North Michigan goes from shopping mall to Christmas wonderland. Such commitment calls for celebration, so the shops are throwing their very first tree lighting ceremony this year. (900 N Michigan Ave; Nov 17 6pm-8pm. Free) Palmer House Chicago The Palmer House invites Chicago over for an afternoon holiday party, which features the Jesse White Tumblers, the cast of the Goodman’s A Christmas Carol, afternoon tea and more. (The Palmer House Chicago, 17 E Monroe St; Nov 18 12:45pm-2pm. Free) Magnificent Mile Lights Festival This two-day event celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, so, as u
Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller gathers a group of musicians and comedians for the second Chicago edition of his annual holiday concert. Expect to hear plenty of beer-soaked alt-country tunes from Miller's catalog as well as some raucous renditions of classic Christmas songs.
Conjuring up the bluesy psychedelia of ‘70s acts like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, San Diego trio Earthless string together heavy riffs and meandering solos to create expansive tracks that sounds like they should come with a complimentary black light poster. Don't call it stoner metal—through the woozy melodies suggest otherwise, the members of the band claim to be totally sober. New Jersey psych outfit Ruby the Hatchet open the show.
Though she's spent much of the past two decades reuniting with Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks has always made time to strike out on her own. Her latest solo outing comes in support of her 2014 release, 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault, a collection of songs based on demos that Nicks record during the ‘70s and ‘80s. There's nothing quite as classic as "Edge of Seventeen" on the record, but you can rest assured that Nick will dig into her catalog (and sing a few Fleetwood tunes) when she stops by the United Center. Vintage English new wave act the Pretenders open the show.
Formed by roommates Max Kakacek and Julian Ehrlich (former members of the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, respectively), Whitney has quickly solidified itself as one of the year's most hotly-tipped bands. Cue the breathless praise for the band's debut, Light Upon the Lake, which puts a lovelorn, soulful spin on folk rock that is firmly indebted to the Band and Crosby, Stills & Nash. After a whirlwind year, which included a set at Pitchfork Music Festival, the group returns for a pair of hometown shows at Thalia Hall.
WXRT presents its annual Big Holiday Concert, headlined by Missouri R&B revivalists Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. The band's recent self-titled LP plays like a live letter to the iconic Stax Records sound of the late ’60s and early ‘70s, characterized by soulful vocals, wailing organs and some tasteful horn arrangements. Local gospel legend Mavis Staples opens the show, capping off a year in which she released a new album, Livin' on a High Note, and was the subject of an HBO documentary.
Local punks the Lawrence Arms celebrate the arrival of the holiday season in a typically anti-establishment fashion: By declaring War on Christmas. Each night of the three-concert series features a different set of opening acts, including Dead to Me, the Bollweevils, Worriers, Dowsing, the Copyrights and the Brokedowns.
B96's annual hit parade brings a host of pop acts to Allstate Arena, just in time for the holidays. Pop star of yesteryear Britney Spears headlines, taking a break from her ongoing Las Vegas residency to promote her latest album, Glory. Also on the bill: EDM duo the Chainsmokers, teen crooner Shawn Mendes, vocal group Fifth Harmony, rapper G-Eazy, pop rock act One Republic, Joe Jonas-fronted DNCE and singer-songwriter Alessia Cara.
After a few forays into original music, jazz trio the Bad Plus returns to the quirky pop and rock covers that remain its signature. The group's latest album, It's Hard, riffs on everything from indie rock anthems (Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Maps") to '80s pop (Prince's "The Beautiful Ones").
Kiss FM rounds up an impressive sampling of pop's biggest names for its annual Jingle Ball, headlined by singer (and masterful Saturday Night Live host) Ariana Grande. The remainder of the expansive lineup includes synthpop star Ellie Goulding, unrelenting boy band the Backstreet Boys, Swedish sensation Tove Lo, Danish crooner Lukas Graham, teenage singer Daya, Pitch Perfect 2 actor Hailee Steinfeld and One Direction's Niall Horan.
R&B stalwart Maxwell took the stage last Valentine's Day for the first time in five years—a fitting return to the spotlight for the hot n'steamy, heartfelt crooner. Maxwell's superb debut, Urban Hang Suite, turns 20 years old this year, so count on two-stepping to classic joints like "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)" and "Sumthin Sumthin'." He's joined by soul titan Mary J. Blige, who has shifted more than 50 million albums since Puffy first dubbed her "Queen of Ghetto Love" back in ’92.
Violinist and whistler Andrew Bird returns to the Fourth Presbyterian Church for another string of Gezelligheid (a Dutch word that roughly translates to "cozy") performances, just in time for the holiday season. Filling the church with his signature Victrola horn speakers, Bird typically performs solo, presenting stripped down versions of songs from throughout his career and a few previews of his latest work. These shows are basically like Christmas for Chicago music fans.
No longer saddled with the reputation of being a band of teenagers from Chicago, Twin Peaks have steadily become one of the city's most reliable rock acts. The group's latest, Down in Heaven, draws heavily upon the classic rock textbook, channeling the ramshackle swagger of the Rolling Stones and a bit of the Band's Americana twang. During two hometown shows at Metro and Thalia Hall, Twin Peaks will be joined by LA garage rockers Togther Pangea and dreamy indie-pop act Golden Daze.
The Empty Bottle's Beyond the Gate concert series at the Bohemian National Cemetery moves indoors to a cathedral and welcomes legendary avant-garde composer William Basinski. Currently touring behind his new work, A Shadow in Time (for David Robert Jones), Basinski is best known for looping compositions made with the use of reel-to-reel tape decks, a technique that he showcased most famously on his 2002 release, The Disintegration Loops. Local experimental outfit Mind Over Mirrors and Kentucky synthesizer artist Robert Beatty support.
Honey-voiced Harlem singer Shemekia Copeland (daughter of famed guitarist Johnny Copeland) can do soul and gospel, but when she's in Chicago, she's the "Queen of the Blues." At her Holiday Blues Bash, she'll perform tracks from her new album, Outskirts of Love, and offering up some 12-bar renditions of seasonal songs.
Former Pedro the Lion and Headphones frontman David Bazan has been releasing Christmas singles since 2002, putting a somber spin on carols and holiday standards. His latest record, Dark Sacred Night, collects 10 of these tracks, lending Bazan's warm baritone and sparse arrangements to recognizable tunes like "Silent Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem." During this special 'in the round' performance, he'll perform holiday songs as well as selections from his recent solo work.
Local guitarists Bill MacKay and Ryley Walker curate an evening of holiday cheer in the Hideout's cozy back room. The evening kicks off with a set from Charles Joseph Smith, who will play the venue's antique upright piano, before a reading from playwright Gabriel Wallace. Next, singer songwriter AZITA will premiere a collection of new songs with her band before MacKay and Walker close out the evening with a collaborative set.
Just like Santa, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is coming to town and you know the drill: overwrought prog-metal renditions of Christmas standards, guitarists on platforms and a seizure-inducing light show. Like in previous years, the group will be digging into its greatest hits, so you're sure to hear that inescapable, high-octane version of "Carol of the Bells."
Taylor Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper's little brother, throws an all-ages Holiday Bash at Metro. Expect to hear tracks from the 20-year-old's debut album Broad Shoulders, which matches his effortless flow with sample-free beats from Detroit producer Ludlow. Don't rule out appearances by special guest performers (famous family members included).
Though its most easily described as a jam band, Chicago's own Umphrey's McGee has been explore genres ranging from heavy metal to prog rock throughout expansive sets since the group's inception in the late ‘90s. Yes, you'll witness a prodigious amount of improvisation and noodling, but Umphrey's devotion to art rock and odd time signatures always keeps things interesting. Here, the group headlines the Riviera and two nights at the Aragon Ballroom ahead of an epic three-set performance on New Year's Eve. Colorado funk group the Motet opens the December 30th show.
Chicago hip-hop radio station 107.5 WGCI throws its annual arena concert, assembling a bill that includes some of the genre's biggest stars. A few month after appearing on Kevin Hart's Chocolate Droppa mixtape, R&B crooner Trey Songz headlines. Embattled singer-songwriter Chris Brown and Jeffery emcee Young Thug round out the top of the bill. Desiigner, Lil Yachty, Dreezy, G Herbo, Lil Bibby and Lil Uzi Vert support.
Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming brings the band's retro-inspired energy to his solo project, Diane Coffee. His latest record, Everybody's a Good Dog, is a constantly shifting, Bowie-esque journey through glam, psych and orchestral rock of yore. Armed with a commanding stage presence and capable backing band, Flemming is living proof that a great record collection can yield some heartfelt homages. Modern Vices opens on December 30 and Yoko and the Oh Nos supports on New Years Eve.
Oakland, California metal trio High on Fire brings 2016 to a punishing conclusion at the Empty Bottle, performing a two-night stand that doubles as a New Year's Eve party and a celebration of the venue's 25th anniversary. Led by Matt Pike (who also plays with stoner metal act Sleep), the group specializes in ominous arrangements outfitted with sludgy chords and triumphant riffs—we can't think of a more appropriate soundtrack to greet the first hours of 2017.
Indiana folk rockers Houndmouth greet the new year with a pair Two Nights Before the Future concerts, celebrating four years since the release of the group's first EP. The trio headed to Nashville to record its latest album, Little Neon Limelight, which references contemporary folk, Southern rock, alt-country and everything in-between. Southern soul singer Durand Jones supports on December 30 and Tennessee crooner the Kernal opens on New Year's Eve.
Punk godmother Patti Smith returns to Chicago (where she was born) with her band to celebrate her 70th birthday with a performance of her classic 1975 debut, Horses. Expect some special guests and spirited renditions of the Ramones- and Blondie-inspired tunes that populate the seminal, genre-fusing release.
React Presents' gigantic, two-day New Year's Eve party is dominating the New Year's Eve concert scene again this year, and will bring Flume (Dec 30) and Zeds Dead (Dec 31) to the Donald E. Stephen Convention Center in Rosemont. The rest of the lineup includes Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals, Danny Brown, Gucci Mane, Noname and more. Why hang out at a hotel downtown when you can rage at a convention center in the 'burbs?
The daughter of soul singer Donny Hathaway and an accomplished R&B performer in her own right, Lalah Hathaway is a Berklee grad with a voice that soars through soul, jazz and pop arrangements. At a pair of special concerts on New Year's Eve, Hathaway will sings tracks from her most recent Stax release, Where It All Begins.
In the late aughts, Chicago production duo Aaron Brink and Steve Reidell were the kings of the mashup, combining Wilco and Kanye West, Common and Flying Lotus and a host of other unlikely pairings. The pair hasn't really slowed down, most recently creating a mashup of "Go Cubs Go" and Chance the Rapper's "No Problem" that provided the soundtrack for countless World Series victory celebrations. The Hood Internet headlines Lincoln Hall's New Year's Eve celebration, performing with local rapper ShowYouSuck as Air Credits, with support from Celine Neon and DJ Manny Muscles.
December art exhibits
Anyone who pays attention to popular culture knows that LEGO is a hugely successful multimedia property, complete with a blockbuster movie, TV shows and video games that feature the brand’s signature mini-figures and bricks. But at its core, LEGO is a toy that encourages people of all ages to build something, from fantastical spaceships to models of real-world structures. It’s a catalyst for creation—one that is simple to understand but deceptively difficult to master. The Museum of Science and Industry’s “Brick by Brick” exhibition uses LEGO toys as a framing device for an exploration of architectural principles, famous structures and the power of creativity. The museum recruited LEGO Certified Professional (yes, that’s a real job—there are only 14 in the world) Adam Reed Tucker to create towering scale LEGO models of recognizable architectural marvels, such as the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai and Disney World’s iconic Cinderella Castle. You’ll find these creations (and more) on display now in Chicago, alongside a 60-foot-long Golden Gate Bridge made up of 64,500 LEGO bricks. Adult visitors may marvel at the intricate construction of the large-scale models, but younger guests will be enthralled by the interactive elements that dominate much of the exhibit. A seismic shaker tasks kids with using blocks to build a structure that can withstand a simulated earthquake. Nearby, a pair of chairs attached to pulleys allows attendees to lift themselves (or others) with the assi