December Chicago festival calendar

Find some holiday cheer at these Chicago festivals, featuring food, twinkling lights and seasonal activities
Photograph: Todd Rosenberg It's a colorful winter wonderland at ZooLights, one of the top Chicago festivals in December.
By Time Out Chicago staff, compiled by Zach Long |

December is traditionally the most festive month of the year, filled with holiday celebrations and office parties. Whether you want to break in your new pair of ice skates at ZooLights or learn about the legend of St. Lucia in Andersonville, there's something that will get you in the spirit of the season. Take a break from shopping for gifts and enjoy the best Chicago festivals of the month, featuring food, twinkling lights and winter activities.

Chicago festivals in December

Photograph: Max Herman
Things to do, Festivals

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

Kick off the holiday season at this annual family festival in Chicago's shopping mecca. The daylong event features live music in Pioneer Court, a tree lighting parade along Michigan Avenue and celebratory fireworks as the evening comes to a close. Check out the full schedule of event at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival's website.

Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza is a top holiday market.
Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Mayor's Office
Shopping, Markets and fairs


Chicago's largest open-air market is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Inspired by a Nuremberg, Germany, market that was founded in 1545, this market features iconic German items like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks and beer steins, as well as hand-blown ornaments and wooden handicrafts. Authentic food (sausages, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, waffles) and drink (beer and Glühwein, a traditional hot spiced wine) are also available, along with assorted sweets.

Renegade Craft Fair 2011
Photograph: Mandy Dempsey
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Renegade Craft Fair

This mega fair is an opportunity for serious crafters from around the country to sell their handmade arts and wares and the perfect place to get extra special holiday gifts, and maybe a little something for yourself in the process. Renegade moves off Division Avenue and into the Bridgeport Art Center this December where you can warm up, and do some serious shopping.
Photograph: Todd Rosenberg
Things to do, Late openings


Head to the Lincoln Park Zoo to see the lights (and maybe a few animals) at this annual winter tradition. The first 1000 people through the gates each night receive special glasses to view the lights with, but everyone can enjoy nightly ice carving demonstrations, hot beverages and ice skating on the zoo's rink.

Photograph: Krystal Thibault
Things to do


Enjoy dozens of seasonal beers while walking beneath the menagerie of bright lights on display at the Lincoln Park Zoo. While you're sipping, snap photos with Santa at the Helen Brach Primate House and take a complimentary spin on the Endangered Species Carousel. Unlike ZooLights itself, this beer tasting isn't free, but proceeds from the event help keep the zoo open to the public year-round.

Sauced Night Market at Emporium in Logan Square
Photograph: Nick Murway
Things to do, Markets and fairs

Sauced Night Market

This month, Sauced Night Market returns to Logan Square's Emporium Arcade, bringing back a large lineup of fabulous local vendors so you can do some holiday shopping damage, eat from favorite Chicago vendors and, what the hell, get your buzz on with a craft beer or two. As always, admission is free.

Things to do, Festivals

Winter WonderFest

Navy Pier's annual indoor winter carnival returns with a selection of new activities, including a toboggan tunnel, winter mini golf and a 15-foot "snow tubing" hill. Returning attractions include the Blackhawks ice skating rink and various carnival rides. Kids can also snap a picture with Santa or decorate a cookie.

Beer Fest Beat Down
Courtesy: Beer Fest Beat Down

Beer Fest Beatdown

If the prospect of 100 beers from nearly 30 breweries doesn't get you excited, how about some Lucha Libre wrestling? Attendees will be able to get their fill of both at the Beer Fest Beatdown, which also features a beer fountain (the kind you throw pennies into) and beer-themed holiday card workshop. Tis the season to drink holiday beer.