As a child growing up in Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry was my favorite place to visit. I’d rush through the front door to watch chicks hatch in the giant incubator, then ride the lift to the bottom of the interactive coal mine, and then climb aboard a real U-505 – the only German submarine in the United States. But my favorite time of year at the Museum was the holidays, when its halls were filled with Christmas trees from around the world.
Fast forward 20 – 30 – 40 – TOO MANY years. The Museum of Science and Industry is still going strong, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Although many of the exhibits have changed over the years, the Museum still celebrates the holidays with Christmas Around the World. More than 50 trees, including the new Bulgaria tree, have been beautifully decorated by members of Chicago’s ethnic communities and scattered throughout the Museum’s halls, while various ethnic groups and school choirs from across Chicagoland sing and dance every weekend through the end of the year.
Because the Chicagoland area is a treasure trove of holiday happenings, with events planned in neighborhoods all across the city and suburbia, it is nearly impossible to list all the best events of the season. However, any short list of Chicago’s holiday offerings would have to include the following:
The holiday season kicks off on Saturday, November 22nd, with the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. Mickey Mouse, as master of ceremonies, leads the illumination of more than one million lights in The Magnificent Mile district on North Michigan Avenue, from Oak Street to Wacker Drive. The event features live music from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and culminates in a magnificent fireworks show over the Chicago River, but the Mile’s million lights remain illuminated for viewer’s enjoyment through the end of the year.
Another 75th anniversary will be celebrated this year when the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marches down State Street in downtown Chicago, from 8:30 to 11 a.m. More than 400,000 people are expected to line the parade route between Congress and Randolph Streets to see floats, marching bands, equestrian units, and giant inflatable balloons, as well as special guests Ronald McDonald, wrestling superstar CM Punk, the Barefoot Hawaiians, the cast of Dirty Dancing, the Budweiser Clydesdales, and of course, Santa Claus!
- Daley Plaza, at Washington and Dearborn Streets in downtown Chicago, is the site of numerous holiday events. The Plaza is famous the world over for it’s giant Picasso sculpture, but during the holiday season Picasso’s masterpiece is dwarfed by a mega-Christmas tree, made up of dozens of smaller trees. This year’s Tree Lighting Ceremony, scheduled for December 2nd, will mark the 95th anniversary of this holiday rite of passage. Also at Daley Plaza, Santa Claus will be available for pictures and visits from November 27 through December 24. Both the Lighting Ceremony and visits with Santa are free of charge.
And if that’s not enough, Daley Plaza is also the site of Christkindlmarket Chicago, a festival that celebrates Chicago’s strong Germanic roots. The name Christkindlmarket comes from the mythical tale of the Christkind, a fairy-like being, dressed in a gold and white robe with a crown atop her golden locks, who is the bearer of gifts at Christmas time. The four-week long event is the largest and most renowned German winter holiday market in the United States, featuring typical German food and drinks and a unique holiday shopping experience that offers eclectic ornaments that are hand-blown and painted and cannot be found anywhere else in the world, in addition to classic German products like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, beer steins, and Hummel figurines.
Just around the corner at 121 LaSalle Street, get into the spirit by attending the City Hall Holiday Concert Series, featuring holiday classics sung by children’s choirs from throughout the city. The performances begin December 1 and run until December 19 with concerts every weekday from Noon to 1 p.m.
During Winter WonderFest, Chicago’s Historic Navy Pier sparkles with 750,000 lights, 25,000 dazzling holiday ornaments, and hundreds of beautifully decorated trees. This popular theme park, located on Grand Avenue at the north edge of downtown, contains an indoor ice skating rink, a 50-foot high indoor Ferris wheel, a Matterhorn climb and slide, a winter wind glider, and flying ice dragons, among other rides and attractions. The event runs from December 5th through January 4h.
Families can travel a bit further afield to “Zoo” it up. Lincoln Park Zoo on Chicago’s north side presents “ZooLights,” where kids can have their photo taken with Santa in the Kovler Lion House, watch ice-carving demonstrations, and enjoy a musical light show extravaganza on the South Lawn. Brookfield Zoo in the western suburbs presents Holiday Magic with a Laser and Light Spectacular, ice-carving demonstrations, live musical performances, magicians, and special breakfasts with Santa every weekend through Christmas.
- No holiday visit to Chicago would be complete without a stop at the Grant Park/Millennium Park complex. Although most activities in the park occur in the spring, fall, and summer, from November 19 through March 15, the popular McCormick Tribune Ice Rink opens, providing free skating with skate rentals available for a small fee. Chicago’s occasional crisp but sunny days beckon visitors to walk across the 925-foot long BP Bridge that connects Millennium Park to Daley Plaza while providing incomparable views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan. Along the way, try not to stare at “Cloud Gate,” the 110-ton elliptical sculpture forged of highly polished stainless steel plates that reflect the city’s skyscrapers and the clouds above.
There is so much more to do in Chicago than can be listed here. But one thing is for sure. It will take more than a day to sample what this fabulous, friendly, Midwestern city has to offer. In addition to the fabulous sites, Chicago offers some of the finest food around. Check out the three Italian restaurants in Old Town recently featured on UpTake’s Restaurant Blog, or check out the full range of dining experiences available in Chicago at UpTake’s Restaurant Guide. And enjoy!
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels