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
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan
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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

Photograph: Neal O'Bryan
Things to do, Late openings

ZooLights

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park Zoo | Chicago, IL, Lincoln Park
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When the weather gets cold and most of the animals head indoors, Lincoln Park Zoo tranforms into a a field of twinkling bulbs. ZooLights decorates the beloved zoo with themed displays, perfect for a seasonal Instagram. Throughout the month, you'll also find ice-sculpture carvers and carolers joining the fun, as well as hot beverages available for purchase. This year, ZooLights adds several ticketed events, including a Holiday Market (Nov 27), an adults-only night (Nov 29), a live performance of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas (Dec 9) and a Zoo Year's Eve celebration (Dec 31). 

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Christkindlmarket

icon-location-pin Daley Plaza, Loop
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You haven't experienced the holidays in Chicago until you've stepped inside 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 and chocolate-covered treats. No trip to Christkindlmarket is complete without a steaming mug of Glühwein, a traditional hot spiced wine. The holiday market has three locations in Daley Plaza, Naperville and Milwaukee, though the outpost in the Loop is its most popular iteration. Check it out November 16 through December 24. Christkindlmarket is open Sunday through Thursday from 11am to 8pm and Friday and Saturday from 11am to 9pm. Look out for special hours on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve (11am–4pm).

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Holiday shoppers browsed a selection of handmade goods at the Renegade Craft Fair, December 5, 2015.
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Renegade Craft Fair

icon-location-pin Bridgeport Art Center, Bridgeport
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If you're looking for a quick and easy way to get some holiday shopping done, head for the winter edition of Renegade Craft Fair, where makers from across the nation will be selling their handmade art and wares. The indoor market offers prints, pottery, jewelry and other more, with food to eat and cocktails to sip while you browse the aisles.

Illumination
Photograph: Courtesy Morton Arboretum
Things to do, Festivals

Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum

icon-location-pin Morton Arboretum, 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.

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Christmas Around The World and Holidays of Lights at The Museum of Science and Industry
Photograph: J.B. Spector
Things to do, Exhibitions

“Christmas Around the World”

icon-location-pin Museum of Science and Industry | Chicago, IL, Hyde Park
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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.

MillenniumSkating.venue.jpg
Photograph: Patrick L. Pyszka
Things to do, Ice skating

Ice Skating in Millennium Park

icon-location-pin McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink, Downtown
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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 Sunday at 9am. If it seems too warm to skate, call ahead—this rink is open through March 10, weather permitting.

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Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon
Courtesy Maggie Daley Park
Things to do, Ice skating

Ice Skating at Maggie Daley Park

icon-location-pin Maggie Daley Park | Chicago, IL, Millennium Park
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The Maggie Daley Park ice ribbon looks like a Mario Kart track, but you won't have to worry about dodging banana peels while you glide around the quarter-mile circuit. As you skate around the park's climbing wall and admire skyline views, you'll be able to stop for a cup of hot chocolate. The ribbon stays open through March (weather permitting) and will host a Skate with Santa on Saturday, December 15 from 10am to noon. 

Caroling at Cloud Gate
Photograph: Peter J. Schulz
Things to do, Performances

Caroling at Cloud Gate

icon-location-pin Millennium Park, Chase Promenade, Millennium Park
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Show up in front of Cloud Gate (otherwise known at “The Bean”) to belt out holiday classics at this series of winter concerts and sing-alongs. 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.

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Amy Schumer
Photograph: Peter Yang
Comedy, Stand-up

Amy Schumer

icon-location-pin Chicago Theatre | Chicago, IL, Loop
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I Feel Pretty star, podcast host and activist Amy Schumer brings comes to the Chicago Theatre for two nights of delightfully dirty stand-up comedy. Schumer recently announced her pregnancy (at the end of an Instagram post encouraging her fans to vote), so some characteristically graphic material about morning sickness and childbearing is pretty much guaranteed.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Bars

Happy's: A Holiday Pop-Up Bar

icon-location-pin Chicago Athletic Assocation, Loop
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Situated on the ground floor of the Chicago Athletic Association, Happy's transforms the hotel's Tank space into a holly, jolly pop-up with cocktails from bar master Paul McGee. Adding to the merriment is a lineup of evening programming that includes karaoke, bingo, holiday music and more. Psst: This is a great pitstop after checking out Christkindlmarket or the Millennium Park ice-skating rink. 

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Photograph: Lyndon French
Bars

Jingle Bell Square

icon-location-pin Lost Lake, Avondale
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Lost Lake always manages to pull off one of the most epic holiday pop-up bars in all of Chicago. The tiki bar gets into the holiday spirit with tinsel, string lights, festive glassware and a menu full of themed cocktails that will leave you giddy like a child on Christmas morning. Executive chef Fred Noinaj offers a roster of holiday snacks to keep you feeling jolly all night long.

Movies, Family and kids

Music Box Christmas Double Feature

icon-location-pin Music Box Theatre, Wrigleyville
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Ring in the holiday cheer with some classic, beloved Christmas films. Follow Jimmy Stewart’s path to redemption in It’s A Wonderful Life or sing along with Bing Crosby in White Christmas during the Music Box’s annual tribute to classic holiday cinema. Arrive early to meet Santa and 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 holiday cheer you can handle in the span of an afternoon.

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

Cirque Dreams Holidaze

icon-location-pin Chicago Theatre | Chicago, IL, Loop
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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.

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

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

icon-location-pin Harris Theater, 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?

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Christkindlmarket

icon-location-pin Daley Plaza, Loop
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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.

Christmas in Chicago 2018

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Concerts in December 2018

Music, Rock and indie

Death Cab for Cutie + Elle King + Lovelytheband

icon-location-pin Aragon, Uptown
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Ben Gibbard and his band are indie-rock survivors, capitalizing on the genre's The O.C.-soundtracking days and managing to bring its earnest refrains and scrappy pop sensibility  into the latter hald the 2010s relatively unscathed. Death Cab for Cutie's latest album, Thank You For Today, is stuck somewhere between electronics-heavy homages to Gibbard's days in the Postal Service and songs that introduce a high-fidelity sheen to the sound of the band's earliest records. Last time the band came to town, it turned in a complete performance of Transatlanticism at the Auditorium Theatre, so anything could happen at this 101WKQX The Nights We Stole Christmas, where Death Cab will be joined by “Ex's & Oh's” singer Elle King and alt-rock act Lovelytheband.

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

Thom Yorke + Oliver Coates

icon-location-pin Chicago Theatre | Chicago, IL, Loop
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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.

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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 | Chicago, IL, 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.

Music, Classical and opera

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Concert

icon-location-pin Symphony Center, Orchestra Hall, Loop
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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.

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

Greta Van Fleet

icon-location-pin Aragon, 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.

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

Kurt Vile and the Violators + Jessica Pratt

icon-location-pin Riviera Theatre, Uptown
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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.

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Greensky Bluegrass
Photograph: Jamie Van Buhler
Music, Folk, country and blues

Greensky Bluegrass

icon-location-pin Riviera Theatre, Uptown
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This Kalamazoo, Michigan quintet puts a progressive spin on traditional bluegrass music, augmenting mandolin and banjo arrangements with trippy light shows. While its music is a far cry from that of the Grateful Dead or Phish, Greensky Bluegrass has found a following among jam band fans thanks to its constantly-changing setlists and extended improvisations during performances. The group takes over the Riviera Theatre for hour nights at the end of the year, joined by the Jeff Austin Band on December 28 and 29, and Horseshoes and Hand Grenades on December 30. On New Year's Eve, it's three straight sets of Greensky Bluegrass with mandolin solos galore.

pitchfork 2018, noname
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Music, Rap, hip-hop and R&B

Noname

icon-location-pin Thalia Hall | Chicago, IL, Lower West Side
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On her latest album, Room 25, Fatimah Warner (better known as Noname) establishes herself as one of contemporary's hip-hop's most skilled lyricists, deftly exploring a transitional period in her life through a stream of poetic stanzas. The Bronzeville native mixes bavado with deeply personal reflection, often packing both sentiments into the span of a few seconds of her jazz-inflected arrangements. After spending much of the year on the road, Noname returns to Chicago for a trio of year-end shows at Thalia Hall, including a New Year's Eve performance.

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Galantis
Photograph: Teddy Wolff
Music, Dance and electronic

Galantis

icon-location-pin Aragon, Uptown
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Even if you don't know them by name, you're probably familiar with the some of the music that Swedish DJ duo Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw have been responsible for. As producers, Karlsson helped pen "Toxic" for Britney Spears, while Eklöw had a hand in Charli XCX's hit single "I Love It." Working together as Galantis, the pair has produced some inescapable EDM tracks, including "Runaway (U & I)," "Peanut Butter Jelly" and "No Money." You won't be able to order bottle service, but the Aragon will probably resemble a packed club when Galantis touches down in Chicago for two year-end performances.

Bully
Photograph: Alysse Gafkjen
Music, Rock and indie

Bully

icon-location-pin Empty Bottle, Ukrainian Village
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Distilling the ‘90s grunge sound to its emotionally-charged, dirstortion-drenched core, Alicia Bognanno and her band Bully deliver rock and roll anthems that pack a punch. Tracked live to tape at Steve Albini's famous Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, the band's 2017 record Losing confronts the confusion of uncertain times with screamed refrains and barrages of power chords. If you're looking for a particularly cathartic way to spend the last hours of 2018, this show is just the ticket.

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Guided by Voices
Photograph: Sandlin Gaither
Music, Rock and indie

Guided By Voices

icon-location-pin Bottom Lounge, Downtown
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Stage-kicking, beer-swilling power-pop singer-songwriter Robert Pollard continues to churn out snappy, lyrically obtuse rock at a breakneck pace—Guided By Voices already has a new album (Zeppelin Over China) and pair of EPs planned for release in the first few months of 2019. After celebrating New Year's Eve at the Empty Bottle last year, the Dayton rockers return to Chicago to ring in 2019 at Bottom Lounge. Take a swig to Jose Cuervo and settle in for a sprawling three-hour set that splits the difference between the band's energetic contemporary output and tracks from classic records like Bee Thousand and Do the Collapse.

Mucca Pazza
Photograph: Jason Creps
Music, Rock and indie

Mucca Pazza + Absolutely Not

icon-location-pin Lincoln Hall, Sheffield & DePaul
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Local thirty-some piece marching band Mucca Pazza sends off 2018 with a jovial celebration at Lincoln Hall which should please band geeks and the musically inept, alike. Armed with mismatched uniforms, horns, cellists, guitarists, drummers and enthusiastic cheerleaders, the collective explores everything from Balkan music to big band arrangements while marching in unconventional formations. On New Year's Eve, they'll be joined by local punk rockers Absolutely Not and the Fuzzbox DJs.

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RJD2
Photograph: Nick Fancher
Music, Dance and electronic

RJD2

icon-location-pin Sleeping Village, Avondale
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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 Neo-Futurarium, 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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