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Chicago Polar Plunge, March 6, 2016
Photograph: Max Herman

January 2022 events calendar for Chicago

Begin the new year with events, festivals, concerts, theater and more great things to do in Chicago in January

Zach Long
Emma Krupp
Written by
Zach Long
&
Emma Krupp
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Welcome to 2022! January might not be the most exciting month our city has to offer, but you'll find there are still plenty of things to do this winter in Chicago if you know where to look. Catch the final days of Christmas lights in Chicago (they're still pretty, even when the holidays have passed) before they shut down for the season, and get some fresh winter air when you take a spin around the best ice skating rinks the city has to offer. If you'd rather stay inside, turn your attention to exhibitions at Chicago museums—the Art Institute's Barbara Kruger show runs until the end of the month, for instance—or treat yourself to a day of relaxation at a nearby spa. Plus, watch for the in-person return of iconic January events like the Polar Plunge, which sends brave jumpers for a dip into the icy waters of Lake Michigan. Ready to welcome a new year? Check our list of the best things to do in Chicago this January.  

RECOMMENDED: Events calendar for Chicago in 2022

Featured events in January 2021

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  • Festivals
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  • Streeterville

Too cold outside? Navy Pier brings all of the winter fun indoors, filling its gigantic 170,000-square-foot Festival Hall with a regulation-size Alpine ice skating rink, a holiday beer garden, kiddie train rides, Santa’s Village and a gift market. The centerpiece of Light Up the Lake (which replaces Navy Pier's Winter Wonderfest) is a collection of oversized light sculptures, including a giant Teddy Bear, 25-foot-tall deer, a 60-foot light tunnel and 40-foot tree. Boasting more than 600,000 lights, Navy Pier claims that it's "the area's largest indoor lights show." Plus, each Light Up the Lake ticket includes a ride on Navy Pier's 200-foot Centennial Wheel—don't worry, all of the gondolas are fully enclosed and heated!

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  • Millennium Park

Every year, 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. Spectators can check out the festive tree near Washington Street and Michigan Avenue through Sunday, January 9th. The annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony will return in-person this year on Friday, November 19 starting at 6pm, featuring special guests and performances ahead of the illumination of the 108th Chicago Christmas Tree.

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If you're looking for a holiday destination, Amaze Light Festival brings a twinking display, a holiday market and a tubing hill to Rosemont. Situated in Impact Field (the home of the Chicago Dogs), this seasonal attraction features light shows and seven illuminated worlds to explore, plus a variety of separately-ticketed experiences, including visits ot Santa's Workshop and Polar Peak tubing rides. Guests can also fill up on food and hot beverages before visiting a candy shop stocked with festive treats.

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  • Ice skating
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  • Millennium Park

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. This year's edition of the ribbon will be decorated with designs inspired by Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" and "Starry Night" paintings, a collaboration between the art exhibition "Immersive Van Gogh" and Chicago Park District.  Admission to the Skating Ribbon is free during weekdays if you bring your own skates; otherwise, reservations are $5 (with skates on weekends on holidays) or $16–$20 if you need to rent a pair. 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.

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  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Wrigleyville

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 Wrigley Field-adjacent space hosts a variety of seasonal activities, including the Wrigleyville outpost of Christkindlmarket, an ice skating rink, photos with Santa and holiday movie screenings on every Wednesday in December. Opening on November 19, you'll be able to shop for gifts, sip glühwein and enjoy delicious treats through the end of the year. Once the holidays are over, the skating rink at Winterland will stick around through February 20. Visit the Winterland website for reservations, hours and additional information about programming.

  • Time Out Market
  • West Loop

Embrace the spirit(s) of the season while enjoying festive tropical cocktails at Secret Sand-ta, the holiday-inspired cocktail bar inside of Time Out Market Chicago. Featuring drinks from expert mixologist Paul McGee (Lost Lake, Milk Room), this speakeasy-style pop-up operates out of window on the second floor of Time Out Market Chicago. Just head upstairs and look for the festive decorations, then hop in line to order a Hot Buttered Rhum Cider, a North Pole Nog or another drink festooned with jolly garnishes. Secret Sand-ta opens at 5pm on Fridays and Saturdays. 

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Suburbs

The Chicago Botanic Garden hosts this annual (and quick to sell out) display of festive lights, giving guests a host of shimmering reasons to visit the forest preserve during the holiday season. Set along a 1.25-mile path, the after-dark experience features a series of installations to explore, including a 110-foot tunnel made up of 100,000 lights and a group of trees festooned in bulbs that "sing" holiday songs.  

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  • Lincoln Park

To see one of the largest displays of holiday lights within city limits, you need to head to Lincoln Park Zoo, where the annual ZooLights display strings up millions of LED blubs. While most of the animals will be keeping warm inside, visitors are free to wander through the park, snapping photos of the various displays and taking part in a variety of activities throughout the holiday season. There a some new features to look forward to this season, including a new light show on the South Lawn and a 18-foot holiday tree outside the newly-renovated Pepper Family Wildlife Center, where red pandas and snow leopards can be found. Guests will also be able to enjoy hot beverages and snacks at stands throughout the park. Just like last year, a $5 admission fee will be charged throughout most of the week—free admission tickets will be offered on Mondays and Tuesdays. Check out the Lincoln Park Zoo website for information on special ticketed events during ZooLights, including the BrewLights beer festival and a musical tribute to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

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  • Festivals
  • Suburbs

Ready to get into the holiday spirit? After switching to a drive-through format for 2020, the Morton Arboretum's annual holiday light show is returning this year as a mile-long, walk-through spectacle of LED lights and music, featuring a blend of new and returning light displays set amid 50 acres of trees.  New for 2021 is a special light-up display of "Hallow," one of artist Daniel Popper's large-scale statues featured in the Arboretum's popular "Human+Nature" exhibition, plus a collection of 150 colorful lanterns, an "enchanted gateway" of glowing lights leading to Meadow Lake and a lit-up pasture near the top of the conifer trail, among other first-time features. You'll also find returning favorites like Ornament Hill, Enchanted Hill and the music-filled Symphony Woods. While you make your way through the show, stop to warm up and roast marshmallows at bonfires set along the path, or grab snacks from concessions vendors.  Timed entry tickets for Illumination, which will run from November 20 through January 22, go on sale October 1—keep an eye out for 20 percent off deals on select Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from event sponsor ComEd.  

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  • Ice skating
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  • Millennium Park

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. Plus, take advantage of free skating lessons on most Saturdays and Sundays from 8am–9am, where you can learn both beginner- and intermediate-level skills. Note that you'll need to make a free online reservation for both regular skating and lessons this year, and if it seems too warm to skate, call ahead—this rink is open through March 6, weather permitting.

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