Take a break from holiday hustle-bustle and have some fun

Zoo patrons look for the polar bears during the Holiday Magic and ZooLights programs offered at Brookfield Zoo.  |  File photo

Zoo patrons look for the polar bears during the Holiday Magic and ZooLights programs offered at Brookfield Zoo. | File photo

Christmastime in Chicago is truly a magical time.

Take, for example, the splendiferous tree in Daley Plaza. This is the 100th year Chicago has had an official city Christmas tree. And like the first tree, it was donated.

Nearly 29,000 lights and 300 decorations (including a star on top) adorn the tree, said City of Chicago spokeswoman Mary May. Santa has set up shop in his house in Daley Plaza, skaters are gliding around the rink at Millennium Park and carolers are caroling at Cloud Gate.

There are a plethora of activities to make your season merry and bright, from sipping mulled cider at the Christkindlmarket to marveling at the window displays at Macy’s.

“People are out on the streets enjoying the holiday season and being together. There’s just so much to do here. It’s just a magical time of year,” she said. “There are so many classic traditional things we do here in the city to celebrate the holidays, it’s truly magical for Chicago.”

And that’s just downtown. There are events all over the city and suburbs that celebrate the season.

Also, check out the Cook County Forest Preserve, the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Public Library for events like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” play at Sheil Park and Christmas Stories and Crafts at the Mount Greenwood branch.

With that, here’s a compilation of some holiday events in Chicago. We apologize if we left your event off – we promise we’ll get you next year.


Chicago Botanic Garden’s Wonderland Express. The holiday-themed miniature train exhibit runs through Jan. 5. $8-$10. Seasonal events include a Hanukkah concert Dec. 1, Holiday Cheers! Seasonal Tastings Dec. 11, Christmas concert Dec. 21 and Hot Chocolate with Mrs. Claus Dec. 23. Parking is $20/car, $25/van. 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, (847) 835-5440;

Garfield Park Conservatory’s Holiday Flower Show. Nov. 30 to Jan. 5 in Horticulture Hall. Voices of the Season free concert is Dec. 7. 300 N. Central Park, (312) 746-5100;

Lincoln Park Conservatory’s Winter Flower and Train Show. To Jan. 6. Trains wind through a miniature village surrounded by poinsettias. 2391 N. Stockton, (773) 742-7736;

Morton Arboretum’s Illumination and Enchanted Railroad. New this year is the Arboretum’s first lights event: a mile-long trail filled with surprising light experiences that runs through Jan. 4. Enchanted Railroad is a garden railroad traveling through an indoor winter wonderland; through Jan. 6. $9-$12. Illumination event $10-$15; includes admission. 4100 Illinois 53, (630) 968-0074;

Oak Park Conservatory’s Winter Holiday Craft Fair. Local artists sell their creations Dec. 1. Santa will attend. 615 Garfield St. Oak Park, (708) 386-4700;


Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic. Runs weekends Nov. 30 to Dec. 31. The event includes entertainment from local groups, a laser light show, carolers, themed Zoo Chats and a new holiday light and video display on the Reptiles and Birds House. There are also more than 450 decorated community and 50 corporate trees. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be in the holiday shop. $10.50-$15. Parking $10. 8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield, (708) 688-8000;

Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoo Lights. Luminous displays shine Friday through Sunday to Dec. 13; then nightly through Jan. 5 (except Dec. 24 and 25.) Holiday activities include crafts, photos with Santa, live ice carving and 3-D displays. New this year is an ice skating rink open through March 2. Free admission; parking $20. 2001 N Clark St., (312) 742-2000;

Festival of Lights and Trees. 20,000 twinkling lights and spectacular displays transform Cosley Zoo into a fairy tale winter wonderland today through Dec. 30. Lights are on at 3 p.m. daily at Cosley Zoo, 1356 Gary Ave., Wheaton. (630) 665-5534.


Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light. At the Museum of Science and Industry, more than 50 trees decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities are displayed through Jan. 5. Ethnic dance and choral groups perform on weekends and select weekdays. A 45-foot grand tree is in the Rotunda. $18-$36. 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, (773) 684-1414;

Snowflakes and Stories. At the Adler Planetarium Dec. 7, families can enjoy a paper snowflake lesson, listen to stories and visit the World’s Largest Snow Globe. 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, (312) 922- 7827; $8-$12.

Shedd Holiday Breakfasts. Dec. 14, 20 and 21 at Shedd Aquarium. Enjoy a buffet, private viewing of The Polar Express 4-D Experience and a visit to the Polar Play Zone to take a photo with Santa. The event ends with reserved seats to “A Holiday Fantasea.” $34.95-$49.95. 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., (312) 939-2438;

Christmas at the Clarke and Glessner House Museums. Experience a traditional 19th century at both houses. Christmas Candlelight Tours at both houses Dec. 14 and 15. Clarke House Museum, 1827 S. Indiana Ave.; Glessner House Museum

1800 S. Prairie Ave. Through Jan. 5. $6-$10. (312) 326-1480.

Legoland Discovery Center’s Holly Jolly Holidays. Take photos with life-size Santa and snowman LEGO models. Dec. 7-31 at Legoland Discovery Center, Streets of Woodfield. $20. 601 N. Martingale Road, Schaumburg, (866) 823-9546;


The Dance-Along Nutcracker. Dancers of all ages: grab your tutu and join professional dancers Dec. 1 at the Chicago Cultural Center for the role of a lifetime. There will be a rehearsal before each performance. Preston Bradley Hall, 3rd Floor South, 78 E. Washington St. Free.

“The Nutcracker.” Presented by the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, the beloved holiday tradition runs Dec. 6-28 at the Auditorium Theatre. $31-$117. 50 E. Congress Parkway, (312) 739-0120;

Chicago Tap Theatre, “Tidings of Tap!” Featuring rhythm and whimsy-filled interpretations of songs of the season Dec. 13-15 at the U.I.C. Theater, 1044 W. Harrison. $22-$35. 1044 W. Harrison, (800) 838-3006;

Redmoon Theatre “Winter Pageant.” Dec. 13-15 and 20-22. Redmoon’s holiday tradition returns with dance, machines, magic and masks. $10-$25. 2120 S. Jefferson St., (312) 850-5440;

Von Heidecke’s Chicago Festival Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” On Dec. 1 at the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, 102 N. Chicago St., Joliet. $20.50-$38. (815) 726-6600;

Salt Creek Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” Dec. 7-8 at Governor’s State University, 1 University Pkwy, University Park. $20-$40. (708) 534-5000;

Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker.” Dec. 8 at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont. $38.20-$134.55. (847) 671-5100;

“The Nutcracker Ballet.” Presented by Ballet Legere Dec. 14-15. Performances are held at Dominican University Lund Auditorium, 7900 W. Division St., River Forest. $20-$25. (773) 237-1874;

“A Christmas Carol.” The holiday classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge comes to the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet Dec. 19. At the Rialto Square Theatre, 102 N. Chicago St. $20-$48. (815) 726-6600;


Season of Carols concert. Held Dec. 9 at the Mercury Theatre to kick off sales of the “Season of Carols” holiday concert CD, which benefits the charity Season of Concern. $20. 3745 N Southport Ave., (773) 325-1700;

Street Carols On State. Nov. 29. The Chicago Theatre’s downstairs theater, 175 N. State St. $46. (800) 745-3000;

Polish Carols: Song and Dance. The Lira Ensemble presents its holiday concert Dec. 1, with special guest pianist, 14-year-old Daniel Szefer. At Dominican University Lund Auditorium, 7900 W. Division St., River Forest. $48-$58. (708) 488-5000;

Chicago a cappella. Anne Heider, Artistic Director Emerita of Bella Voce, will serves as Guest Music Director this holiday season, bringing her renowned musicality to traditional European and American carols, Christmas spirituals, folksongs, Hanukkah delights and more. See the group’s web site for its Chicago-area appearances this season. (773) 281-7820;

City Hall Holiday Concerts. Children’s choirs perform free noontime shows weekdays Dec. 2-20 at City Hall, first floor lobby, 121 N. LaSalle St. (312) 744-3316;

Caroling at Cloud Gate. This free program begins tonight and runs Fridays through Dec. 20. It showcases Chicago choral groups. Guests can sing along. Free. At Millennium Park, Chase Promenade Central, N. Michigan Ave. & E. Randolph St., (312) 744-3316;

Jim Brickman’s “The Magic of Christmas.” The piano-playing singer brings his holiday show to Joliet Nov. 30. At the Rialto Square Theatre, 102 N. Chicago St. $35-$100. (815) 726-6600;

Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus. The choir performs its holiday show, “Making Spirits Bright,” four times: Dec. 6 at Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St.; Dec. 7 at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts , 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; Dec. 14 at

University of Chicago, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.; and Dec. 15 Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook. $20-$50. (773) 296-0541;

Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour. Dave Koz brings his Christmas tour back to The Chicago Theatre on Dec. 7 with special guests Keiko Matisui, Oleta Adams and Jonathon Butler. At the Chicago Theatre. $43.50-$88.50. 175 N. State, (312) 462-6300;

The Apollo Chorus performs Handel’s “Messiah” Dec. 7 at Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., and on Dec. 21 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St. $18-$75. (312) 427-5620 or

Jingle Ball. 103.5 Kiss-FM’s Dec. 9 concert include Robin Thicke, Enrique Iglesias, Flo Rida, Icona Pop, Avril Lavigne, Travie McCoy and Fifth Harmony. At the United Center, 1901 W. Madison St. $32.95-$134.13. (800) 745-3000;

Michael Johnson’s Down-Home Holiday Christmas: Singer-songwriter Michael Johnson performs holiday classics Dec. 14 at Elgin Community College’s Blizzard Theatre. $25. 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin, (847) 697-1000.

Welcome Yule! The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus present a program of new arrangements, cherished carols and some musical surprises Dec. 14-15 and 20-23 at the Symphony Center. $38-$60. 220 S. Michigan Ave., (312) 294-3000;

The 93XRT Bud Light Big Holiday Concert. The concert stars The Head and The Heart, Dawes and special guest Thao & The Get Down Stay Down Dec. 15. At the Chicago Theatre. $45. 175 N. State, (312) 462-6300;

Martina McBride: The Joy of Christmas. Dec. 21 at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont. $50-$91.`(847) 671-5100;

Kenny Rogers’ “Christmas & Hits Through The Years.” Country music legend Kenny Rogers performs holiday favorites with special guest Linda Davis Dec. 21 at North Central College’s Pfeiffer Hall. $70-$85. 310 E. Benton Ave., in Naperville. (630) 637-7469;

Mary Wilson’s Holiday Spectacular. One of the original Supremes gets a little help from special guests The Four Tops at this show, which runs Dec. 23 to Jan. 5 at the Harris Theater. $59.99-$119.99. 205 E. Randolph St., (312) 334-2419;


“A Christmas Carol: The Musical.” Charles Dickens’ holiday classic runs Wednesdays to Sundays through Dec. 22 at the Theatre at the Center. $38-$42. 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Ind. (219) 836-3255;

Theo Ubique’s Yuletide Celebration “A Very Merry Madrigal.” Song, food, poetry and variety acts will combine into a festive feast. Runs Thursdays to Sundays through Dec. 22 at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at No Exit Café. $15-$29; dinner $15 extra. 6970 N. Glenwood Ave., (800) 595-4849;

“A Christmas Carol.” The tale of redemption runs through Dec. 28 at the Goodman Theatre. $39-$92. 170 N. Dearborn St., (312) 443-3800;

“Making God Laugh.” Two empty-nesters welcome home their three grown kids for the holidays: a priest, an aspiring actress and a former star athlete. Performed Fridays to Sunday (along with Dec. 5 and 12) through Dec. 29 at the Fox Valley Repertory Theater at Pheasant Run Resort. $42-$51.75. 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles, (630) 584-6342;

“If Scrooge Was a Brother”. To Dec. 29. Creative Arts Foundation. $15-$30. 7558 S. South Chicago Ave. (773) 752-3955;

“Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Broadway in Chicago, Emerald City Theatre and First Stage perform this classic through Jan. 5. At Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. $18-$40. 175 E. Chestnut St., (800) 775-2000;

“RiffTrax Live: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at many area movie theaters. Ring in the holiday season with loads of laughs from the RiffTrax crew.

“Twist-a-Carol IV: Dr. Whoville.” Vex Theatre Company of Elgin presents the original new holiday show that combines Dr. Who and Dr. Seuss. Runs Dec. 6-8 at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., Elgin. $10. (847) 991-8081;

The Second City’s Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue. A live comedy revue that pokes fun at the foibles of the holiday season runs Thursdays to Sundays Dec. 6-22 at the Copley Theatre. $35. 8 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666; “A Klingon Christmas Carol.” Adapted from Charles Dickens’ classic tale of ghosts and redemption is a story of a Klingon overcoming cowardice to reclaim his honor. Performed in Klingon with English supertitles and a Vulcan narrator. Dec. 7 at Elgin Community College’s Blizzard Theatre. $32. 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin, (847) 697-1000.

Festival of the Gnomes: The 37th annual gnome show returns Dec. 7. Journey with the cast as they tell of the “wee” folks’ good works for man and nature, while outsmarting the Snotgurgle troll. At the Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park. $5. 201 W. Jefferson St., Joliet. (815) 724-3760.

“A Christmas Carol.” Runs through Dec. 21 at Drury Lane Theatre. $12-$15. 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. (630) 530-0111;

“The Christmas Schooner.” The story of the first Christmas tree ship and the family who risked their lives to fill Chicago with the Christmas spirit runs through Dec. 29 at The Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave. $20-$55. (773) 325-1700;

“It’s a Wonderful Life The Radio Broadcast.” Runs Thursday to Sunday through Dec. 30 at the American Theater Company. $25-$40. 1909 W. Byron St., (773) 409-4125;

“A Very Awesome Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! Holiday Show.” DJ Lance Rock and the colorful cast of characters will be joined by hip hop legend Biz Markie Dec. 14-15 at the Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont,(847) 671-5100; $31.40-$82.65.

Music Box Christmas Show. Santa leads the audiences in Christmas carols before watching a Yuletide movie. Dec. 13-15, 19-24. Music Box Theatre. $10-$17. 3733 N. Southport Ave., (773) 871-6604;

“A Christmas Memory and the Thanksgiving Visitor.” The holidays spell a time of hope and new beginnings for 7-year-old Buddy. Runs Fridays to Sundays through Dec. 29 at the Provision Theater Company. $10-$32. 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, (866) 811-4111;

Madrigal Dinner. Presented by the Joliet Drama Guild, the evening includes a full sit-down dinner, plus madrigal music and other entertainment and characters from the Renaissance period. $33. Dec. 20-22 at the Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park, 201 W. Jefferson St., Joliet. (877) 543-1933;

A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol. A hip-hop reinterpretation of the perennial holiday favorite by Charles Dickens. Held Tuesdays through Sundays Nov. 30-Dec. 22 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. $20-$35. 800 E. Grand Ave.. (312) 595-5600;


Chicago ice rinks. The skating season is open at all city ice rinks and runs through Feb. 23 at most rinks, weather permitting. The rink at McCormick Place closes March 9. A new rink at Wentworth Park, 5625 S. Mobile Ave., opens in December. Another new rink this year is at Navy Pier. The ice rinks at Daley Bicentennial Plaza is closed., and there are no longer ice rinks at West Lawn Park or at Wrigley Field. Hours, skate rentals and admission fees vary by rink. (312) 742-7529;

Light Up the Park. MB Financial Park at Rosemont kicks off its Winter Wonderland season tonight with a tree lighting, horse-drawn sleigh rides and appearance from Santa. The ice rink also opens today and runs through Feb. 2. 5501 Park Place, Rosemont, (847( 349-5008;

Santa Claus in Daley Plaza. Santa’s visiting hours and house tours begin today and continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 20, with additional hours Dec. 21-24. Santa will be available for photos. Free. 50 W. Washington, (312) 744-3316;

Santa at Water Tower Place. Santa will be waiting in a winter wonderland to talk to youngsters. He’ll have hours through Dec. 24 at the Water Tower Place, which is again using QLess, a mobile queuing solution. Visitors check in via the on-site kiosk or on their smart phone. At 835 N. Michigan Ave., (312) 440-3166;

Christkindlmarket Chicago. Daley Plaza is transformed into a traditional European marketplace through Dec. 24. Free. 50 W. Washington, (312) 494-2175;

Christmas Bazaar. Held at the Irish American Heritage Center Dec. 1, the event includes mass, a breakfast, craft sale, bake sale and visit from Santa Claus. 4626 N. Knox Ave., (773) 282-7035;

Do-Division Holiday. Food, drink, shopping, trolley rides and more are part of the annual shopping event along West Division between Milwaukee and Leavitt. Dec. 7-8. No admission, (312) 961-5583;

Holiday Lights Gift & Craft Fair. Lambs Farm holds its annual shopping extravaganza benefiting people with developmental disabilities Dec. 6-8 at the Arlington Park Racecourse. 2200 W. Euclid, Arlington Heights, (847) 385-7500; $8; parking $6.

Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier. Runs Dec. 6 to Jan. 12. New activities include a zip line, spinning cups ride, large inflatable slide and Snowman Bouncer. Winter WonderFest Jr., for children less than 36” tall, has been expanded this year. Other Winter WonderFest activities include the Ferris wheel, carousel and ice skating rink. Admission is free; activity wristbands cost $16-$20. 600 E. Grand, (312) 595-7437;

Breakfast with Santa at Soldier Field. Dec. 7. Soldier Field will host its 7th annual Breakfast with Santa to ring in the holidays. Families can visit with Santa, decorate holiday cookies, enter a homemade ornament contest and see a train display from yesteryear. $25-$55. 1410 S. Museum Campus Dr., (312) 235-7063 or Email;

Candy Cane Express. Climb aboard the Candy Cane Express with Santa and his elves on Dec. 7. Enjoy milk and cookies and Christmas carolers. Trains leave from Aurora, Naperville and Union Station and returns riders to their original stations after the ride is done.;

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