Don't let the snow and cold temperatures keep you inside as winter arrives—you'll be missing out on a long list of things to do in Chicago. Stay toasty throughout December by taking part in the cavalcade of holiday events, sliding across the ice at local skating rinks or sipping hot cocktails at a seasonal pop-up bar. There are also productions of The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol to see, as well as a stacked lineup of New Year's Eve concerts. There's no reason to be bored during the final month of the year—load up your calendar with the best things to do in Chicago this December.
RECOMMENDED: Events calendar for Chicago in 2019
Featured events in December 2019
You haven't experienced the holidays in Chicago until you've stepped into this giant open-air market inspired by a similar seasonal tradition in Nuremberg, Germany. At Christkindlmarket, guests can shop handcrafted items like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, beer steins and glass ornaments. When hunger strikes, nibble on potato pancakes, hot pretzels, schnitzel, döner and chocolate-covered treats. And no trip to Christkindlmarket is complete without a steaming mug of Glühwein, a traditional hot spiced wine (there's also hot cocoa for the kids). The holiday market boasts three locations in Daley Plaza, Gallagher Way and Milwaukee, but the outpost in the Loop is its most popular iteration. When the weather is decent, the market is generally packed in the evenings, so stop by in the afternoon for a more plesant (and less-crowded) shopping and/or dining experience.
Don't feel like going to the Loop for your glühwein fix? The Wrigleyville outpost of Christkindlmarket returns to Gallagher Way this year, with fewer vendors than the Daley Plaza version of the event, but just as much holiday cheer. At booths around around an ice rink, you'll find ornaments, beer steins, jewelry and clothes available for purchase, in addition to a smorgasbord of German foods, such as pretzels, sausages, döner and strudel. Naturally, you'll be able to browse the selection of goods while clutching a mug filled with a steaming beverage of your choice. Plus, unlike its counterpart in the Loop, Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville remains open through the end of the year, so you can extend the spirit of the season to the week after Christmas.
Unless you've got a big budget, your Chirstmas light display won't hold an LED candle to the 2.5 million bulbs that festoon Lincoln Park Zoo during the annual ZooLights event. While most of the animals will be inside, guests are free to wander through the park, snap photos of the display and take part in a variety of activities throughout the holiday season. Ice sculpture carving, strolling carolers and Santa are regular fixtures of the event, but you'll also find ticketed happenings like a holiday market (Dec 3), an adults-only night (Dec 5), a live performance of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas (Dec 15) and a Zoo Year's Eve celebration (Dec 31).
Every year, Chicago's front lawn (er, Millennium Park) is adorned with an epic Christmas tree that remains on display until the beginning of the new year. The larger-than-life attraction is festooned with twinkling lights and crowned with an illuminated star—and it's not too far of a walk from Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. Spectators can check out the festive tree near Washington Street and Michigan Avenue through Sunday, January 6, 2020.
The Cubs may be hibernating for the winter, but Gallagher Way provides some excellent reasons to hang out in Wrigleyville during baseball's off-season. The public square's Winterland event series offers an array of seasonal, family-friendly activities, including an 8,000-square-foot ice rink, curling and skating lessons, holiday movie screenings and visits from Santa Claus. Beloved holiday bazaar Christkindlmarket also hosts an outpost at Gallagher Way, bringing shopping and glühwein north of the Loop. Plus, look out for wreath-making workshops, breakfasts with Santa and a tree lot at Big Star.
There's only one holiday pop-up bar that hosts Singing Santa shows every hour, on the hour. At Frosty's Christmas Bar in Goose Island, there are three levels of festive fun, four bars, two dance floors, life-size toy soldiers and a themed soundtrack that keeps the crowd bumping until 4am every night of the week. Don your favorite holiday attire and enjoy a glass of Very Merry Punch while eating Christmas cookies amid the twinkling lights, tinsel and over-the-top decorations. If you don't feel a hint of genuine holiday cheer after stepping inside this massive holiday pop-up, you might actually be a Grinch.
Every year, the Museum of Science and Industry puts up its 45-foot-tall Grand Tree and surrounds the towering pine with more than 50 trees that represent Chicago's various communities and their respective holiday celebrations. Visitors can admire the 30,000 lights that cover the trees and stick around for the "snow" that falls from the rotunda every 30 minutes. During the weekend, live performances of holiday music fill the room, lending some additional seasonal cheer to your day at the museum.
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 magical display and seasonal music. Enjoy the display while strolling along a one-mile path and then warm up by a crackling fire with hot beverages and s’mores.
This immersive Christmas pop-up bar boasting wall-to-wall holiday decor returns to Wrigleyville, taking over Deuce's Major League Bar during the most festive time of the year. You'll find photo-ops galore as well as multiple bars serving drinks decked out with decorative garnishes and garlands, including large-format cocktails like the Mega Yule Mule and Jingle Juice. Feeling hungry? Try chowing down on the Atomic Yule Logs, consisting of three cheese sticks covered in a with Flamin’ Hot Cheetoh crust and Sriracha dust. Don't forget to snag a ticket before you head to Santa Baby—admission is typically free during the week, but during weekends (and the days leading up to holidays) you'll pay a $20 cover. Families are welcome to stop by during the day, but after 8pm it's 21+.
There's nothing stopping you from showing up in front of Cloud Gate (a.k.a. "The Bean") at any point during the year and belting out your favorite holiday songs, but you can do it with a crowd of like-minded exhibitionists at this annual series of winter concerts and sing-alongs. Meeting every Friday from November 29 through December 20, the caroling is lead by the likes of the Sounds Good! Choir (Nov 29), Mark Hubbard and The Voices (Dec 6), the Chicago Children’s Choir (Dec 13) and the Wicker Park Choral Singers (Dec 20). It's free to attend and it's just a short walk to the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink if you want to go for a quick skate after you sing.
Situated on the ground floor of the Chicago Athletic Association, Happy's transforms the hotel's Tank space into a holly, jolly wood-paneled dive bar serving cocktails created by Land and Sea Dept. Feel even more holiday cheer by stopping by an evening event, including bingo nights, a "Warholidays" party, gingerbread house decorating and a night dedicated to learning about and combatting Seasonal Affective Disorder. Admission is free and the pop-up is just a short walk from the Millennium Park ice skating rink.
Skate under the Chicago skyline and within eyeshot of the Chicago Christmas Tree at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Admission to the rink is free, and you can rent skates for $13–$15. The most popular time to hit the rink is in the evening, so show up earlier if you don't feel like waiting in line for your chance to slide around. Take advantage of free skating lessons on Fridays at 11am and Saturdays and Sundays at 9am. If it seems too warm to skate, call ahead—this rink is open through March 8, weather permitting.
Situated in the heart of downtown Chicago, with the city's sweeping skyline as a backdrop, the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park is a winter attraction unlike any other. Skaters can lace up and wind around a winding ice-covered path that's twice the length of a lap around a traditional rink. Admission to the Skating Ribbon is always free, and skate rentals are available for $13–$15. The Ribbon stays open through March (weather permitting) and even offers limited hours on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
You can probably expect to see acrobatic eleves, trapeze artists dressed like reindeer and cartwheeling Santa Claus at this new Cirque du Soleil holiday show, which draws inspiration from the popular poem about Christmas Eve. The family-friendly performance takes over the Chicago Theatre stage for two week, beginning on November 29.
Too cold outside? Navy Pier brings all of the winter fun indoors, filling its gigantic 170,000-square-foot Festival Hall with an ice skating rink, carnival rides, a tubing hill, seasonal activities and piles of holiday decorations. Bring the kids and avoid the slush for an afternoon or show up on New Year's Eve (when the attraction is open until 10pm) to slide around the fake ice during the final hours of 2019. Anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
The holiday edition of Renegade Craft Fair returns to Chicago, bringing more than 250 makers from across the nation to the Bridgeport Art Center. Find items for even the most hard-to-shop-for folks on your list by browsing a selection of handmade art and wares, including jewelry, pottery, prints, T-shirts and more. Plus, you can sip a hot cocktail and live DJ sets while you shop—and don't forget to strike a pose in the holiday photo booth before you leave.
The only thing better than basking in the glow of Lincoln Park Zoo's annual Christmas light display is spending an evening among the twinkling bulbs with a beer in your gloved hands. The ticketed BrewLights event allows attendees to sample beer from Begyle, Maplewood, Ravinia, Delirium, Breckenridge and other great breweries. Admission includes access to the zoo and free rides on the Endangered Species Carousel.
Treat your eyeballs to some classic holiday cheer with screenings of two beloved Christmas films at the Music Box Theatre. Follow Jimmy Stewart’s path to redemption in It’s A Wonderful Life or sing along with Bing Crosby in White Christmas during this annual tribute to seasonal cinema. Arrive early to meet Santa and stay in your seat to belt out Christmas carols during the intermission, accompanied by the theater’s organist. You can snag tickets to one movie or both, depending on how much pure joy you can handle in the span of an afternoon.
If you loved Midsommar, you'll get a kick out of the annual St. Lucia Festival of Lights in Andersonville. The Swedish-inspired celebration begins with a procession down Clark Street at 4:45pm (stepping off from the Swedish American Museum) featuring a group of white-robed Lucia Girls who wear crowns topped with candles. The celebration continues at the Chicago Waldorf School, where guests will learn about the legend of St. Lucia while enjoying traditional Swedish snacks, including pepparkakor ginger cookies.
For one day each December, the 12 Bars of Xmas pub crawl (better known as TBOX) takes over Wrigleyville, bringing the drunken debauchery of the summer months into the holiday season. More than 30 bars throughout the neighborhood participate in the booze-soaked revelry, as participants in festive garb take advantage of drink specials while indulging in traditions like "cereal shots" and sticker exchanges. The theme of this year's crawl is "memes," which means that at least one guy dressed as Keyboard Cat will stumble down Clark Street. For most, the annual event is another fun day on the town (with proceeds benefitting local charities), but if you're going to start drinking at 9am it bears repeating that you should be safe and gulp down a few glasses of water between beers.
Concerts in December 2019
What better way to celebrate the holiday season (and take a break from the barrage of Christmas music being piped into your ears) than with an evening of performances from a cavalcade of contemporary pop stars. Hot on the heels of squashing her feud with Taylor Swift, pop-singer Katy Perry headline's this year's B96 Jingle Bash, with support from "Havana" singer Camila Cabello and masked EDM DJ Marshmello. Normani, Monsta X, Lil Tecca, AJ Mitchell and NCT 127 will also take the stage, so settle in for a long night of earworm melodies.
After taking a year off to complete his cheekily-titled album, My Finest Work Yet, whistlin' violinist Andrew Bird returns to the altar of the Fourth Presbyterian Church for a series of special performances. The winter "Gezelligheid" (a dutch word that roughly translates to "cozy") are something of a holiday tradition in Chicago, and offer a chance for fans to hear Bird play a solo set filled with new arrangements of classic tunes and collaborations with special guests. In the past, Bird has tested out new songs in front of a receptive audience and dabbled in expansive instrumental compositions that are piped through his array of horn speakers.
It's been two whole years since Wilco last played in Chicago, but the beloved locally-based act is coming out of a self-imposed hiatus with a series of "Winterlude" shows, and a new album to boot. The group headlines a four-night stand at the Chicago Theatre behind its latest record Ode To Joy, which finds frontman Jeff Tweedy collaborating closely with drummer Glenn Kotche on a series of "really big, big folk songs" that are augmented by the rest of the band. Tweedy's lyrics grapple with the challenge of finding moments of delight in the midst of an oppressive political climate—the video for the single "Everyone Hides" demonstrates a literal embrace of this theme, sending the band to Chicago landmarks like the Marina City Towers and the Music Box Theater as part of a game of hide and seek. While songs from Ode To Joy will likely to take the spotlight during Wilco's Chicago Theatre residency, a hometown show simply wouldn't be complete without a few deep cuts from the band's extensive back catalog, so go ahead and keep your fingers crossed for "Magazine Called Sunset" and "Student Loan Stereo."
Ever since 1976, Chicagoans have gathered during the holiday season to belt out Handel’s classic oratorio (the one with the famous “Hallelujah!” chorus) backed by a volunteer orchestra and professional soloists at the Harris Theater. You'll need to show up to the event familiar with the score and ready to sing your heart out all evening long, and you might also want to figure out if you're a soprano, alto, tenor or bass.
Radio station 103.5 KISS FM wraps up the year with a barrage of performances by some of pop music's biggest stars at its annual Jingle Ball concert, featuring reunited boy band the Jonas Brother and "Let You Down" rapper NF. The stacked bill also includes French Montana, Niall Horan, Why Don't We, Zara Larsson and Lewis Capaldi.
Holiday prog-rockers Trans-Siberian Orchestra make their annual trip to Rosemont, though you'll have to wait until after Christmas to see this year's seizure-inducing light show set to overwrought versions of seasonal songs. If you're still not tired of hearing the band's inescapable high-octane rendition of "Carol of the Bells," snag a seat and warm yourself in the glow of crackling pyrotechnics at one of TSO's Allstate Arena gigs.