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Photograph: Patrick L. Pyszka

Chicago holiday traditions that aren’t happening this year

And the stuff you can do instead!

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

While there are still plenty of things to do during the holidays in Chicago this year, some beloved local traditions have been forced to take a year off due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, we recognize that events involving large gatherings (especially ones that take place indoors) aren't the best idea at the moment in light of the city's stay at home advisory, but we'll still miss being able to take part in these seasonal staples of city life. Here's what Chicagoans will be missing out on during this holiday season, along with a few ideas about how to fill the void.

Navy Pier Winter WonderFest
Photograph: Nick Uliveri Photography

Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier

With Navy Pier closed until spring 2021 (at the earliest), there aren't any events happening at the waterfront attraction in the coming months, including the annual Winter WonderFest. In the past, the seasonal celebration has decked the festival hall with lights and set up a long list of indoor winter activities, including an ice skating rink, climbing walls and a carousel.

Do this instead: While there's no ice skating rink or rock climbing wall, the only other place in Chicago where you'll find a holiday celebration with a carousel nearby is ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. Just don't expect to actually ride on the AT&T Endangered Species Carousel—it's currently closed for the season.

Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker
Photograph: Cheryl Mann

Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker

The Joffrey Ballet canceled the remainder of its 2020/2021 season in October, calling it "the safest course of action for our artists and audience members." That includes the annual staging of The Nutcracker, which received a Chicago-centric update in 2016 that moved the setting of the classic holiday tale to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

Do this instead: Animated images from the Joffrey's latest version of The Nutcracker will be a part of the latest Art on theMART display, projected on the side of Merchandise Mart from 7 to 8pm every evening through December 30.

Photograph: Patrick L. Pyszka

Ice skating in Millennium Park

If you were hoping to slide across the ice just below the Bean this year, we're sad to inform you that the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink will not be opening this season. We learned of the closure when the City of Chicago officially announced its holiday programming in Millennium Park, which rules out in-person gatherings, though you can still go see the city's Christmas tree.

Do this instead: Walk across the winding BP Pedestrian Bridge to Maggie Daley Park, where the equally curvy ice skating ribbon is welcoming skaters beginning on November 20. You'll need to make a reservation if you want to get on the ice, so don't forget to book your spot well in advance.

Caroling at Cloud Gate
Photograph: Peter J. Schulz

Caroling at Cloud Gate

Another tradition that's off Millennium Park's docket this year is the series of communal caroling sessions surrounding the Bean. Typically, local choral groups would head to the silvery sculpture on Friday evenings throughout December to lead attendees in a series of festival seasonal songs. Since gatherings are being restricted and it's no fun to sing with a mask on, you'll have to stick to belting out "Jingle Bells" in the shower.

Do this instead: The New Philharmonic orchestra at the McAninch Arts Center in nearby Glen Ellyn is streaming a Holiday Sing-Along With the Symphony on December 12 and 13. Tickets start at $40 and proceeds help support the symphony and the McAninch during these difficult times.

Macy's Great Tree
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Dinner in the Walnut Room

The city's latest ban on indoor dining means that there will be no sitting down to enjoy a chicken pot pie in the Walnut Room at Macy's this year, where guest have traditionally been able to dig into a seasonal menu beneath the glimmering Great Tree.

Do this instead: You can still grab food from the Walnut Room (and get a glimpse of the decorated tree), but it's a take out-only affair this year. Order from a menu that includes the famous pot pie, roasted turkey and Frango ice cream pie, pick up your meal and enjoy it in front of your own Christmas tree.

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