Things to do during Christmastime
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. 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.
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 festival 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).
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, but if you don't own a pair of skates, you'll have to pay to rent some. 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. You can 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.
Having retired cofounder Robert Joffrey's production of The Nutcracker after nearly 30 years, the Joffrey Ballet debuted a brand-new version in 2016, set in Chicago against the backdrop of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Featuring stunning new choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, the latest iteration of the classic Christmas will still have you humming “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” for days after you leave the theater.
You'll have to wait quite a while to get a table next to the tree in the Walnut Room, the seventh-floor restaurant inside Macy's (formerly known as Marshall Fields). But the 45-foot-tall tree, which sparkles with 3,000 ornaments and 6,000 LED lights, can be viewed from outside the restaurant, which means that you won't have to splurge for a chicken pot pie simply to experience one of the most spectacular holiday displays in the city.
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. 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.
Look for the glowing neon fish sign hanging over this classic Andersonville dive, where locals and visitors have been pumping quarters into the jukebox for more than 80 years. When the holiday season arrives, you'll want to order the bar's cold-weather specialty: a warm mug of a Swedish variation of spiced wine called glögg, served with an authentic ginger pepparkakor cookie.
The Goodman Theatre’s annual holiday production of the Charles Dickens classic keeps its seasonal charm intact in its latest iteration. No bah humbugs here. Larry Yando returns for yet another outing as Ebenezer Scrooge, while director Henry Wishcamper is back for his sixth year, guiding the classic story of three spirits who confront Scrooge with the consequences of his miserly actions.
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.