December 2018 events calendar for Chicago

Find the best holiday activities in Chicago, including free things to do, and picks from theater, art and music
Christkindlmarket
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas Christkindlmarket
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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 winter events, great (though sometimes stressful) shopping as well as wonderful shows and concerts. Whether you’re lacing up your skates at Millennium Park or hiding 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 2018

Featured events in December 2018

Illumination
Photograph: Courtesy Morton Arboretum
Things to do, Festivals

Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum

icon-location-pin Suburbs
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When the weather gets cold, the trees at Morton Arboretum light up in a sea of color at this popular winter event. Guests at Illumination walk down a one-mile path through the forest, admiring the psychedelic display and seasonal music. New features at this year's edition include tree-like sculpture from artist HYBYCOZO, a tree that changes colors when you hug it and campfires stocked with hot drinks and s'mores.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze
Photograph: Cirque Dreams
Theater, Circuses & magic

Cirque Dreams Holidaze

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Acrobats, illusionists, dancers, jugglers and stilt-walkers take the stage in this kinetic holiday show, which channels European cirque performances and Broadway glitz. Cirque Dreams Holidaze features more than 300 festive cotumes, 20 acts and original music that celebrates important dates throughout the holiday season, presented over through course of a two-hour show.

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Jamie Allan
Photograph: Courtesy Harris Theatre
Theater, Circuses & magic

Jamie Allan’s iMagician… It’s Magic Beyond Belief

icon-location-pin Millennium Park
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Aided by lasers, iPads, holograms and more miraculous modern technology, British illusionist Jamie Allan puts a high-tech spin on classic stunts like levitation and underwater escapes. He calls himself the “Steve Jobs of magic,” so perhaps you can skip the trip to the Genius Bar and have him fix your cracked screen with the power of his mind?

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Christkindlmarket

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You haven't experience the holidays in Chicago untill you've stepped inside this giant open-air market inspired by a similar seasonal tradition in Nuremberg, Germany. You'll be able to do some shopping at booths set up throughout Daley Plaza, where you'll find handcrafted German items like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, beer steins and glass ornaments. It's also worth stopping by Christkindlmarket to grab a sausage and some potato pancakes, or to sip a steaming mug of Glühwein, a traditional hot spiced wine.

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Shopping

Randolph Street Market Festival

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More than 200 vendors hawk their antique housewares, furniture, ephemera, clothing and more at this indoor-outdoor festival. Stop in for vintage clothes and jewelry, a vinyl swap meet, a fancy food market and global goods bazaar or bring your own items for appraisal. This event typically occurs on the last weekend of each month. During the warm-weather months of May–September, the market adds an outdoor area, offering even more vintage shopping and a beer garden.

Christmas in Chicago 2018

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Concerts in December 2018

Thom Yorke
Photograph: Courtesy Nasty Little Man
Music, Dance and electronic

Thom Yorke + Oliver Coates

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After bringing Radiohead to the United Center for a pair of shows earlier this year, Thom Yorke will return to Chicago in December for a special concert in support of his 2014 solo album, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes. Joined by longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and backed by live visuals created by Tarik Barri, Yorke will dig into the glitchy, electronic sounds he's created as a solo artists, as well as with Atoms For Peace. Don't expect to hear any Radiohead songs—Yorke's recent performances have served as deep dives into his own catalog, complete with renditions that expand upon his work in interesting ways. Experimental cellist Oliver Coates supports.

lollapalooza 2018, travis scott
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan
Music, Rap, hip-hop and R&B

Travis Scott + Sheck Wes + Trippie Redd + Gunna

icon-location-pin United Center
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After celebrating the release of his latest album, ASTROWORLD, at Lollapalooza this summer, Travis Scott returns to Chicago on his WISH YOU WERE HERE tour. The Houston rapper and Kayne West protege presides over a cavalcade of famous friends on his recent record, trading verses with Drake, harnessing the psychedelic production of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and making way for guitar riffs provided by John Mayer. While you probably won’t see an of ASTROWORLD’s most prominent guests at the United Center, Scott is bringing New York emcee Sheck Wes, SoundCloud rapper Trippie Redd and “Phase” rapper Gunna along for the ride.

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Music, Classical and opera

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Concert

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Accio conductor’s baton! Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conjure a live performance of John Williams’ score to the second Harry Potter film, accompanying a screening of the magical movie.

Greta Van Fleet - 2017
Photographer: Michael Lavine
Music, Rock and indie

Greta Van Fleet

icon-location-pin Uptown
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If you're holding out for a Led Zeppelin reunion, you might have to settle for the classic rock-inspired stylings of this Michigan quartet. In case the Jimmy Paige-indebted blues riffs and Robert Plant-inspired yelps didn't give it away, the members of Greta Van Fleet are devoted students of the legendary British rockers. Touring behind its full-length debut, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, the group will headline three nights at the Aragon Ballroom.

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Kurt Vile
Photograph: Courtesy Matador Records
Music, Rock, Pop & Hip-hop

Kurt Vile and the Violators + Jessica Pratt

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Philadelphia troubador Kurt Vile can seemingly take any mundane element of his day-to-day life and turn in into a rousing psychedelic rock ballad. On “Loading Zones,” the lead single from his latest solo album Bottle It In, Vile confronts Philly's complicated parking restrictions with his signature blend of six-string riffs and wry lyrical observations. San Francisco folk singer Jessica Pratt opens the show.

RJD2
Photograph: Nick Fancher
Music, Dance and electronic

RJD2

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Ramble Jon Krohn, better known by his stage name RJD2, is a master manipulator of beats and melodies, mixing samples, synths and live instrumentation. His track “A Beautiful Mine” serve as the theme for Mad Men, showcasing his ability to take a few old samples and turn them into something at once familiar and vital. RJD2 headlines Sleeping Village's first New Year's Eve bash, digging into his collection of records and showing off his turntablist chops both before and after the clock strikes midnight.

Theater shows in December 2018

Theater, Children's

That's Weird, Grandma: Holiday Stories

icon-location-pin Uptown
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Want to look cool to your favorite pipsqueak (and adult friends, too)? Introduce them to Barrel of Monkeys' joyously long-running public show. The troupe conducts writing workshops with CPS grade school students by day, then transforms the kids' stories into hilarious or heartfelt skits and songs, performed with abandon by a spirited ensemble. The show goes holiday-themed for performances from December 4 through 23.

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