December 2017 events calendar for Chicago

Find the best holiday activities in Chicago, including free things to do, and picks from theater, art and music

Photograph: Jaclyn RivasChristkindlmarket

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 2017

Featured events

Randolph Street Market Festival

Recommended

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.

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Plumbers Hall Saturday May 26 2018 - Sunday December 16 2018

Christmas in Chicago

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December concerts

Foster the People + Cold War Kids + Sir Sly

Foster the People headlines the second installment of WKQX's The Night We Stole Christmas concert series, armed with another batch of glossy pop-rock tunes from its recent Scared Hearts Club LP. Stripping away a bit of the cynicism that characterized the band's first post-"Pumped of Kicks" album, the songs on Mark Foster and company's latest effort step ever-so-slightly out of their chirpy, upbeat comfort zone, occasionally descending into a Tame Impala-inspired psychedelic haze. Indie rockers Cold War Kids and funky Los Angeles trio Sir Sly open the show.

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Until Fri Dec 1

Makaya McCraven + Irreversible Entanglements + Dos Santos

Jazz drummer and improviser Makaya McCraven headlines local label International Anthem's year-end bash at Thalia Hall performing "in-the-round" from the center of the venue's floor. Expect to hear some cuts from McCraven's latest release, Highly Rare, which features remixed live recording captured during a performance at Bucktown bar Danny's. Free jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements and Latin dance band Dos Santos: Anti-Beat Orquesta support, with DJ sets from Dave Mata, Jocelyn Brown and Julia Dratel.

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Until Sat Dec 2
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Queens of the Stone Age + Run the Jewels + Biffy Clyro

WKQX's The Night We Stole Christmas concert series ends with the towering riffs of Josh Homme's long-running band Queens of the Stone Age and the hard-hitting hip-hop of Run the Jewels (the same duo that inspired a Logan Square pop-up bar during Lollapalooza this year). Scottish alt-rockers Biffy Clyro support at this special holiday show.

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Until Sat Dec 2

Jay-Z

Now the twins have arrived and he's apologized to Beyoncé, Jay-Z can finally hit the arena circuit behind his unusually confessional hip-hop opus, 4:44. This is a far more humbled (through still characteristically boastful) rap mogul than was showcased on his most recent post-retirement LP, Magna Carta Holy Grail. It won't all be mea cuplas and meditations on broken friendships though—expect Hova to demonstrate that he can still "Run This Town."

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Until Tue Dec 5
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B96 Jingle Bash: Taylor Swift + Backstreet Boys + Fifth Harmony

The old Taylor Swift may not be able to come to the phone right now, but the new one is headlining B96's annual holiday hit parade at Allstate Arena, topping a lineup of contemporary pop acts. ‘90s boy band the Backstreet Boys, "Work From Home" singers Fifth Harmony, R&B singer-songwriter Khalid, conscientious hip-hop producer Logic and Disney Channel star Sabrina Carpenter round out the Jingle Bash bill.  

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Until Thu Dec 7

Do Make Say Think + Nnamdi Ogbonnaya

Broken Social Scene isn't the only seminal Canadian act to come out of hiatus in 2017—instrumental rock outfit Do Make Say Think (which shares some members with BSS) also released its first album in nearly eight years, Stubborn Persistent Illusions. Filled with crisscrossing guitar melodies and triumphant crescendos, the record flirts with post-rock tropes and jazz-inflected flourishes over the course of several expansive tracks that rarely wear out their welcome. Local rapper, drummer and bassist Nnamdi Ogbonnaya opens the show.

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Until Fri Dec 8
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The Jesus Lizard + Dead Rider

Though they released a split single with Nirvana and signed to a major label, Chicago-based noise rockers the Jesus Lizard never achieved alt-rock stardom in the ‘90s. It wasn't for lack of trying—David Yow's primal live performances are the stuff of legend, and its association with independent label Touch and Go as well as studio engineer Steve Albini secured the band a dedicated following. You can expect those fans to show up in force as the group reunites for the second time since disbanding in 1999, returning to the Metro to mark the venue's 35th anniversary. Experimental rockers Dead Rider, formed by former U.S. Maple guitarist Todd Rittmann, open the show.

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Until Sat Dec 9

Angel Olsen

Graced with an acrobatic voice and an introspective demeanor, singer-songwriter (and former Chicagoan) Angel Olsen brings an understated intensity to upbeat rock songs and slow-burning ballads. Her latest release, Phases, assembles a collection of outtakes and B-sides from throughout her career, showcasing the evolution and breadth of her abilities. Most impressively, nearly every track sounds essential in its own right—you know you're at the top of your game when you're leaving this many gems on the cutting room floor.

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Until Sat Dec 9
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Spoon + Real Estate

Local radio station 93XRT give us two presents to open before Christmas arrives, tapping taut Austin power-pop outfit Spoon and melancholic indie-rockers Real Estate to headline its annual Holiday Jam. The former group is still riding high on the release of its punchy, psychedelic Dave Fridmann-produced LP, Hot Thoughts, while the latter group recently pumped out another record filled with pleasantly subdued guitar rock entitled In Mind (sans former guitarist Matt Mondanile, who was ousted from the band due to allegations of sexual misconduct).

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Until Sun Dec 10

Andrew Bird + Joan Shelley

Among Chicago's most hallowed holiday traditions are the window displays in the Marshall Fields building, ice skating in Millennium Park and Andrew Bird's intimate concerts at Fourth Presbyterian Church. Each December, the violinist and whistler returns to his hometown for a series of shows that he's dubbed "gezelligheid"—a Dutch word that roughly translates to "cozy." Performing from the church's altar, surrounded by his signature horn speakers, Bird digs into his catalog, tests out new material and collaborates with special guests, drowning out the nearby holiday bustle of Michigan Avenue with soaring string melodies. Kentucky folk singer Joan Shelley opens each of the four shows.

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Until Thu Dec 14
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The National + This is the Kit

Armed with a surplus of achingly melancholy songs, two pairs of brothers and the haunting baritone of singer Matt Berninger, Brooklyn-via-Ohio rockers the National are somehow one of the biggest rock bands in the world. As if to demonstrate how far it's come, the group brings the larger-than-life arrangements of its recent Sleep Well Beast LP to one of the city’s most opulent venues for a two-night stand.

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Until Wed Dec 13

KISS FM Jingle Ball: The Chainsmokers + Demi Lovato + Kesha

Radio station KISS FM assembles an impressive sampling of pop music's biggest stars for its annual Jingle Ball concert, headlined by inescapable EDM duo the Chainsmokers. "Sorry Not Sorry" singer Demi Lovato, pop crooner Charlie Puth and reinvigorated diva Kesha are also featured on the lineup. The remainder of the bill includes Camila Cabello, Liam Payne, Julia Michaels and Why Don't We.

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Until Wed Dec 13
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Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Merry, Merry Chicago!

The CSO teams up with the Chicago Children’s Choir and vocalist Ashley Brown for an evening of holiday standards, including carols, sing-alongs and selections from The Nutcracker and The Polar Express. Expect a visit from Santa Claus, enjoy some amazing classical music and leave with plenty of Christmas cheer.  

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Until Sat Dec 23

SZA

After a series of mixtapes, singles and high-profile features, Solana Imani Rowe's (a.k.a. SZA) debut album isn't so much a revelation as an affirmation of the talent she's displayed previously. The silky R&B of Ctrl tempers unobtrusive production with extremely direct lyricism that confronts scorned lovers, recounts weekend trysts and ponders the mounting complexities of modern romance. 

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Until Wed Dec 20
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Hamid Drake + Michael Zerang

Get up extra early and help percussionists Drake and Zerang greet the Winter Solstice during a trio of improvised early morning concerts. You can use the steady rhythms of congas, tambourines and djimbe to center yourself before the chaos of the holiday season sets in.

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Until Sat Dec 23

Taylor Bennett + Bianca Shaw + Melo Makes Music

Chance the Rapper's little brother Taylor Bennett brings his all-ages Holiday Bash back to Metro for another festive hip-hop celebration. Between the release of his mixtape Restoration of an American Idol and the launch of his collaborative clothing line with Urban Outfitters, 2017 was a big year for Bennett. He'll cap it off among friends (and perhaps some famous family members), with appearances from local artists Bianca Shaw and Melo Makes Music. 

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Until Sat Dec 23
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Trans-Siberian Orchestra

If you're like us, every 12 months you need a concentrated dose of overwrought prog-metal renditions of Christmas standards, guitarists on moving platforms and seizure-inducing light shows. That's why Trans-Siberian Orchestra comes to town each December, digging into its greatest (and gnarliest) holiday hits—including that inescapable, high-octane version of "Carol of the Bells."

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Until Thu Dec 28

Guided By Voices

Stage-kicking, beer-swilling power-pop singer-songwriter Robert Pollard celebrated his 100th records this year with the release of Guided By Voices' double album, August by Cake. Revived for the second time, the Dayton rockers are still churning out snappy, lyrically obtuse rock at a breakneck pace—the group's second 2017 release, How Do You Spell Heaven, hit stores in August. GBV played its (then) final show at Metro in 2004, so it's appropriate that the band is returning to Chicago to ring in another year and mark the finale of Empty Bottle's 25th-anniversary celebration. Start forming your wishlist of classic Bee Thousand and Do the Collapse tracks—the club is open, once again.

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Until Sun Dec 31
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Sun Ra Arkestra

When avant-garde bandleader Sun Ra departed this planet in 1993, he left behind one of the funkiest bands in the Milky Way. Led by saxophonist Marshall Allen, the Arkestra still plays the intergalactic, big band free jazz favored by its founder (the sequined, Afrofuturist costumes are also still a major part of the show). The group will welcome the New Year with four celestial shows at Constellation.

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Until Sun Dec 31

Adventure Club + Bear Grillz + Ookay

Canadian electronic duo Adventure Club (best known for collaborations with vocalists Yuna and Delaney Jane) top the lineup of the latest edition of Reaction New Year's Eve, which moves to the Aragon Ballroom this year for a one-night EDM bash. Dubstep producer Bear Grillz and trap-style DJ Ookay round out the bill.

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Until Sun Dec 31
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Bob Mould + Helen Money

For anyone who pegged Bob Mould as a loud-and-fast-rules adherent, his post-Hüsker Dü and Sugar career has been nothing but surprising. There have been arty solo albums, electronic excursions, DJ sets, autobiography writing and a recent return to power-pop on the great albums Silver Age and Beauty & Ruin. Mould's latest, Patch the Sky, is another medlodic slab of crunchy power chords and cathartic lyricism, recorded in Chicago by engineer Steve Albini with help from longtime collaborators Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster. Cellist Helen Money opens this trio of year-end show in Evanston.

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Until Sun Dec 31

Local H

A mainstay of the Chicago rock circuit for more than a quarter century, the, er, local duo brings it annual New Year's Eve show to Subterranean this year. You'll hear plenty of deep cuts from frontman Scott Lucas and drummer Ryan Harding, and probably a couple of Motörhead covers, too.

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Until Sun Dec 31
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Murder by Death

Taking its name from a satirical mystery film (one that starred Truman Capote and Alec Guinness), the origins of Murder by Death's moniker are fitting, considering the sweeping, cinematic scope of its 2015 album, Big Dark Love. Backed by horns, strings and crescendoing guitars, frontman Adam Turla's gravelly baritone has all the gravitas of a narrator dictating a harrowing plot. Here, the band headlines Bottom Lounge to ring in 2018 with some dramatic songs that hopefully won't portend another drama-filled year.

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Until Sun Dec 31

Noname

Recommended

After a year that has seen her perform at Lollapalooza and embark on a national tour, Fatimah Warner (better known as Noname) wraps up 2017 with a string of homecoming shows at Lincoln Hall, each with a different opening act. The Bronzeville native's background as a poet shines through in the stark yet beautiful lyrics that populate her debut mixtape, Telefone, delivering verses that confront her insecurities and mortality with low-key candor. 

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Until Sun Dec 31
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Twin Peaks

After a year spent touring behind the ramshackle, Rolling Stones-inspired rock of Down in Heaven and recording new songs for its Sweet '17 Singles Series, Twin Peaks (the band, not the recently-revived David Lynch TV show) is celebrating the end of another year with a trio of hometown shows. The group takes over Thalia Hall, joined by a list of supporting acts that reads like a beginner's guide to Chicago indie rock. On December 29, genre-hopping psych act Sun Cop fills out the bill; Post Animal (featuring Joe Keery of Stanger Things fame) and Dehd open on December 30; and Today's Hits and Ne-Hi help ring in the New Year on December 31.

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Until Sun Dec 31

December comedy shows

Whirled News Tonight

Recommended

  Now in its 15th year, Whirled News Tonight has become an institution at the iO Theatre, hence its prime time slot. Improvised scenes are based on news articles from that week, which audience members post to the back wall of the stage. The show boasts alumni including Jordan Klepper (The Daily Show, The Opposition with Jordan Klepper), Sarah Haskins (Trophy Wife), Arnie Niekamp (Hello From the Magic Tavern) and more. 

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iO Theater , River North Saturday May 26 2018 - Saturday September 29 2018

Bye Bye Liver: The Chicago Drinking Play

"Bye Bye Liver" combines two robust Chicago traditions: comedy and heavy drinking. The show opened ten years ago for a three-week run, then kept getting extended. It centers on common party situations most Chicagoans can relate to, and incoroprates interactive audience games like "Would You Rather." If you're looking to get drunk, quick, and have a great time doing so, "Bye Bye Liver" is always a solid bet. 

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Stage 773 , Lake View Until Saturday June 1 2019
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December theater shows

That's Weird, Grandma: Holiday Stories

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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Neo-Futurarium , Uptown Monday June 18 2018 - Monday December 17 2018

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