Whether you’re interested in theater or light shows, ice skating or shopping, there’s something for everyone to enjoy this holiday season. We’ve rounded up some of the season’s highlights in Chicago and the suburbs. To submit an event for consideration, email us at [email protected].
It wouldn’t be the holidays in Chicago without a trip to the Christkindlmarket or a ride on the CTA Holiday Train. Here’s what to know about some of the city’s most popular wintertime traditions.
Christkindlmarket: Explore one (or more) of three markets this year, with Christkindlmarket locations in Daley Plaza (Nov. 17-Dec. 24), Wrigleyville (Nov. 17-Dec. 31) and Aurora (Nov. 17-Dec. 24). Shop international wares and sip glühwein from collectible mugs.
Trees: Visit the official Chicago Christmas Tree (Nov. 17-Jan. 7) in Millennium Park. This year’s tree is a 45-foot Colorado Blue Spruce from Darien; a tree lighting ceremony is set for Nov. 17. Inside the Walnut Room at Macy’s on State Street you’ll find the Great Tree, a 45-foot tree that hangs from the ceiling (Nov. 4-Jan. 7). If you can’t get a Walnut Room reservation, no worries: There’s a selfie spot outside the restaurant with a view of the tree.
Ice Skating: There are a number of ice skating options in and around Chicago, including Maggie Daley Park (Nov. 17-March 10), McCormick Tribune Ice Rink (Nov. 17-March 3), Winterland at Gallagher Way (Nov. 21-Jan. 7), Navy Pier (Nov. 24-Dec. 31), Parkway Bank Park (Nov. 18-Jan. 28) and select Chicago Park District locations throughout the city (outdoor rinks open Nov. 24).
Caroling: Join in on your holiday favorites at the Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along (Dec. 1, 8, 15), featuring performers from Northeastern Illinois University, the Windy City Gay Chorus and the League of Chicago Theatres. The Songs of Good Cheer Holiday Caroling Party (Dec. 7-10) is celebrating its 25th anniversary at the Old Town School of Folk Music, while the Music Box Theatre is marking 40 years of its Christmas Sing-A-Long (Dec. 8-24).
Parades: The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival (Nov. 18) culminates in the country’s largest nighttime parade; see 200 lit trees sparkling along Michigan Avenue as you watch floats and a fireworks show. The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade (Nov. 23) takes over State Street with marching bands, floats, balloons and equestrian units. And on Dec. 3, catch the Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade, billed as the world’s largest motorcycle parade.
All Aboard: The CTA Holiday Train has brought joy to Chicagoans for more than 30 years. Each train car is decked out in seasonal imagery, and thousands of twinkling lights outline the train and windows. Santa waves to riders from an open-air flatcar.
Light shows across the Chicago area deliver illuminated villages, dazzling LED displays and photo-ops galore.
Nov. 10-Jan. 7: Lightscape | Chicago Botanic Garden
Lightscape’s outdoor illuminated trail features fan favorites like the Winter Cathedral and new installations created just for the garden, including 5-foot floating lilies, lamp-shaped lights that extend nearly 19 feet high and thousands of LED light balls that make Evening Island sparkle.
Nov. 17-Dec. 31: Sparkle Light Festival | Impact Field in Rosemont
Stroll through illuminated villages with millions of sparkling lights. Enjoy a two-story ice slide, free train rides, an ice skating rink, interactive kids’ activities and the chance to write letters to Santa.
Nov. 17-Dec. 31: Santa’s Rock N Lights | Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake
Lights dance in sync to music at the drive-thru show. Expect life-sized dinosaurs, supersized reindeer and polar bears, a forest of Christmas trees and vortexes made from more than 1,000 feet of light tunnels.
Nov. 17-Jan. 7: ZooLights | Lincoln Park Zoo
See LED light displays and interactive elements across the zoo. Expect a twinkling light maze, light tunnel, Ferris wheel and ice carvers. New this year is a garden-themed light show on the zoo’s South Lawn. Select nights include characters and carolers; admission is free on Mondays.
Of note: A sensory-friendly evening is slated for Dec. 6. Most lights remain static; those that do move will be slowed down or turned off.
Nov. 18-Jan. 6: Illumination: Tree Lights | Morton Arboretum in Lisle
Illuminated trees and immersive installations line a 1-mile paved path that is fully ADA compliant for visitors with limited mobility. Music, a crackling fire and s’mores round it out. If you’re 18 or older, check out Electric Illumination on select Fridays in December for light displays synchronized with house and 80s-themed dance music.
Nov. 20-Jan. 3: Light of Christmas | Guaranteed Rate Field
This drive-thru light show delivers more than 1 million LED lights. Tune into a designated radio station for synchronized music; expect colorful archways and installations.
Nov. 24-Dec. 16: Kohlights | Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview
Explore indoor and outdoor exhibits at the area’s only holiday light experience designed exclusively for children. Kids can ride the Twinkle Train, chase dancing lights and build with colorful “ice” blocks.
Nov. 24-Dec. 31: Holiday Magic | Brookfield Zoo
Check out more than 2 million LED lights at the Chicago area’s longest-running lights festival. You’ll find photo ops, ice carving, carolers, a tunnel light show and walk-through displays. Also on deck are a dance party and the chance to write letters to Santa and animals.
From immersive experiences and live performances to kids’ activities and fireworks shows, the Chicago area offers a treasure trove of holiday events.
Nov. 4-Dec. 24: The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party | Chicago Children’s Theatre
Four Beatrix Potter tales come to life in an interactive trunk and puppet show with original music. Kids will have the chance to play with puppets and join fellow guests for a communal tea party. This year’s stories are “The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse,” “The Tale of Two Bad Mice,” “The Tailor of Gloucester” and “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”
Nov. 16-17: IllumiBrew | Morton Arboretum
Get a sneak peak of Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum while sampling seasonal beers, ciders and meads. The 21+ event includes a light-up tasting glass and 15 3-oz pours per visitor.
Nov. 16-Dec. 24: “Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” | Writers Theatre
Manual Cinema is an Emmy Award-winning performance collective that combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, sound and music to create immersive stories. The collective offers a one-of-a-kind rendition of Charles Dickens’ classic tale.
Nov. 17: Tree Lighting Ceremony | Millennium Park
Kick off the holiday season in Millennium Park as the city of Chicago lights its official 2023 Christmas tree. Expect live holiday performances and fireworks.
Nov. 17-Dec. 24: Christkindlmarket | Daley Plaza
Back for its 27th season, the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza will feature more than 55 vendors. A ‘Twas the Night Before Christkindlmarket Preview Event (Nov. 16) includes ceremonial keg tappings. You'll find crafts, ornaments, international snacks and, of course, glühwein in collectible mugs.
Nov. 17-Dec. 24: Christkindlmarket Aurora | RiverEdge Park
The Christkindlmarket in Aurora will transform RiverEdge Park into a winter wonderland for the second year. Expect photo opportunities, scavenger hunts and more than 50 vendors, some unique to the suburban market. A keg-tapping event is set for Nov. 18 with Bitburger and Erdinger; a German wine tasting will take place Dec. 2.
Nov. 17-Dec. 31: Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville | Gallagher Way
Now in its fifth year, the Christkindlmarket at Gallagher Way will include an ice rink and interactive family-friendly activities. The market is expanding with more than 40 vendors.
Nov. 17-Jan. 15: Pinkmas | Museum of Ice Cream
Celebrate the holidays in Instagram-worthy style with a Pinkmas tree forest and life-size snow globe. Jump into the sprinkle pool, take home a gingerbread craft and sample unlimited seasonal ice cream flavors.
Nov. 17-March 3: McCormick Tribune Ice Rink | Millennium Park
Nov. 17-March 10: Ice Skating Ribbon | Maggie Daley Park
Tickets are released on a staggered schedule, select Mondays from Nov. 6-Feb. 26. Bring your own skates or rent a pair; lockers are available.
Nov. 18: Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and Tree-Lighting Parade | Magnificent Mile
Start the day with family-friendly activities and wrap things up with an evening parade featuring glittering floats, helium balloons and musical acts. A fireworks display rounds it out.
Nov. 18: Light Up the Park | Parkway Bank Park
Kick off the holiday season with a tree lighting. Family-friendly activities include visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, free horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice sculpting viewing, ice skating and caroling.
Nov. 18-Dec. 31: “A Christmas Carol” | Goodman Theatre
The Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” has been a beloved Chicago holiday tradition for more than four decades. Accessible performances include an ASL-interpreted performance, an open-captioned performance, a show with Spanish subtitles and a sensory-friendly show.
Nov. 18-Jan. 7: “Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light” | Museum of Science and Industry
This year’s celebration includes a four-story Grand Tree surrounded by more than 50 trees and displays representing holiday traditions of countries and cultures around the globe.
Nov. 18-Jan. 7: The Immersive Nutcracker, A Winter Miracle | Lighthouse ArtSpace
The producers of Immersive Van Gogh present a holiday classic reimagined in large scale. Listen to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score while watching projections of “The Nutcracker,” including “The March of the Toys” and “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
Nov. 18-Jan. 28: Skating in the Park | Parkway Bank Park
The Chicago Wolves Ice Rink returns for free ice skating sessions. Bring your own skates or rent a pair for $8.
Nov. 21-Jan. 7: Winterland | Gallagher Way
Winterland delivers a host of family-friendly activities, including rides, games and ice skating. While you’re there, stop by Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville, also in Gallagher Way. A tree lighting ceremony is set for Nov. 21.
Nov. 23: Turkey Trot 5K & 8K | Lakefront Trail
The 45th annual race supports the Greater Chicago Food Depository. At the Turkey Trot Tailgate, you’ll find live music, a football toss, warm apple cider and doughnuts.
Nov. 23: Chicago Thanksgiving Parade | State Street
The annual parade features marching bands, festive floats, giant balloons, live performances and equestrian units. If you can’t make it, the parade will be broadcast on Pluto TV.
Nov. 23: Thanksgiving Lunch & Dinner Cruises | City Cruises at Navy Pier
Spend part of Thanksgiving on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River during a two-hour cruise that includes a three-course meal, climate-controlled interiors and a DJ.
Nov. 24-Dec. 31: ChiTown Movies Holiday Favorites | ChiTown Movies
Head to the Pilsen drive-in movie theater to watch fan favorites like “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Nov. 24-Dec. 31: Light Up the Lake | Navy Pier
Navy Pier’s holiday experience includes a festive light show, outdoor ice skating rink, free holiday workshops, local artisan markets, axe throwing and cozy fire pits where you can toast s’mores.
Nov. 24-Jan. 7: Winter Flower Show: Celebrating Silver | Garfield Park Conservatory
This year marks the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance’s 25th anniversary. Celebrate with a winter flower show focused on silver foliage, pink and white poinsettias and additional flowers and plants.
Nov. 24-Jan. 7: Wintergreen Flower Show | Lincoln Park Conservatory
This year’s show features a giant green tree silhouette lit by thousands of green LEDs. You’ll see gold, green and orange poinsettias, plus salvias, violas and flowing lime ipomea with silver dichondra.
Nov. 24-Dec. 30: Bar Humbug | Lighthouse ArtSpace
From the creative team behind Immersive Van Gogh, this pop-up bar experience includes wall-to-wall holiday scenes, live entertainment, themed cocktails and bar snacks.
Nov. 24-Jan. 15: Winter WNDRland: Iced In! | WNDR Museum
The museum will be transformed into an icy winterscape. Popular exhibits like “Masterpiece” and “Lake Shore Drive” will be blanketed with shimmering faux snow and ice.
Nov. 25-Dec. 23: Winter Fireworks | Navy Pier
Check out Navy Pier’s award-winning fireworks display with free Saturday shows this holiday season.
Nov. 25: “Elf” in Concert | Auditorium Theatre
Nov. 26: “Elf” in Concert | Rosemont Theatre
Twenty years after its debut, “Elf” is still charming audiences. Watch the holiday film on a 40-foot HD screen while listening to John Debney’s original score played live.
Nov. 26: Irish Christmas in America | Old Town School of Folk Music
This touring showcase features musicians, singers and dancers from Ireland. The long-running show highlights Irish Christmas traditions and storytelling.
Nov. 30-Dec. 23: “Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins” | Chicago Loop Synagogue
In this musical adaptation of Eric Kimmel’s book, a traveling troupe of actors comes to a town and finds no one is celebrating Hanukkah. To save the holiday, they tell the tale of Hershel of Ostropol and his quest to outwit the goblins that haunt the old synagogue.
Nov. 30-Jan. 5: Jack Frost Christmas Holiday Pop-Up | Fulton Market
The festive pop-up features ice skating, bumper cars, axe throwing, ice curling and a holiday market. For adults, there’s boozy hot cocoa and signature holiday cocktails.
Dec. 1, 8, 15: Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along | Millennium Park
Join in on your favorite holiday songs. Each week features a different local choral group, bringing in singers from Northeastern Illinois University, the Windy City Gay Chorus and the League of Chicago Theatres.
Dec. 2: Hyde Park Holly-Day Celebration | Hyde Park
A free day of family-friendly activities includes ice carving demonstrations, an ice sculpture stroll, holiday crafts, a book giveaway, costumed characters and live reindeer.
Dec. 2-3: “Ruth Page’s The Nutcracker” | Ruth Page Center for the Arts
This production recreates highlights from Ruth Page’s original full-length staging, which debuted in 1965 and ran for more than three decades. Stunning costumes and settings take viewers through the Land of Snow and Kingdom of the Sweets.
Dec. 2-27: “The Nutcracker” by Joffrey Ballet | Lyric Opera House
This production of the holiday classic takes inspiration from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Follow young Marie and the Nutcracker Prince in choreography from Tony Award-winner Christopher Wheeldon.
Dec. 3: Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade | Western Avenue
Every year, thousands of motorcycle riders come to Chicago to ride together and donate toys for families in need. The event is billed as the world’s largest motorcycle parade.
Dec. 3-Jan. 1: “The Polar Express” Train Ride | Chicago Union Station
Hop aboard a train for a re-creation of the classic children’s story. Passengers are served shortbread cookies and hot chocolate by dancing chefs. You’ll have a chance to listen to a reading of the book, meet Santa Claus and sing carols.
Dec. 5-6: A Chanticleer Christmas | Fourth Presbyterian Church
The Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Chanticleer has been called “the world’s reigning male chorus” by the New Yorker. The group’s Christmas program ranges from spirituals to Renaissance masterworks.
Dec. 5-10: Christmas With C.S. Lewis | Broadway Playhouse
This play finds author C.S. Lewis at his home near Oxford on Christmas Eve with a group of Americans who are Christmassing in England. Learn how an encounter with fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien changed Lewis’ perspective on the holiday.
Dec. 7: “Hanukkah a Cappella” | West Suburban Temple Har Zion
Chicago a Cappella kicks off its 30th anniversary season with an evening devoted to traditional and contemporary music for Hanukkah. Enjoy latkes and a light Hanukkah meal before the concert.
Dec. 7-10: Songs of Good Cheer | Old Town School of Folk Music
The Songs of Good Cheer Holiday Caroling Party is celebrating its 25th year. Songbooks will be provided for the festive singalong.
Dec. 7-28: “‘Twas the Night Before …” by Cirque du Soleil | Chicago Theatre
Cirque du Soleil’s first holiday show is based on the classic poem “A Visit from Saint Nicolas” by Clement Clarke Moore. The show follows a jaded young girl who rediscovers the magic of the holidays. Expect acrobatics and a soundtrack that reimagines holiday classics.
Dec. 8: “The Big 4-0, Ho, Ho!” by the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus | Auditorium Theatre
Dec. 10: “The Big 4-0, Ho, Ho!” by the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus | North Shore Center for the Performing Arts
The Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus celebrates its 40th anniversary with holiday favorites. Performances blend traditional choral music with musical theater, jazz and pop.
Dec. 8-10: “Home Alone” in Concert | Orchestra Hall
You’ve likely seen John Hughes’ 1990 classic “Home Alone.” Now you can watch it while the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays John Williams’ original score live.
Dec. 8-24: Music Box Christmas Sing-A-Long | Music Box Theatre
The Music Box Theatre has been delivering its own brand of holiday cheer for 40 years. Before watching the classics “White Christmas” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” (or screening both in a double feature), you’ll be greeted by Santa Claus and singalongs to popular Christmas carols.
Dec. 8-31: “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” | American Blues Theater
For more than two decades, American Blues Theater has put on this annual live retelling of the classic Frank Capra film in a 1940s radio broadcast style.
Dec. 9: Chicago Tap Allstars Winter Wonderland | Harold Washington Cultural Center
M.A.D.D. Rhythms, Chicago Tap Theatre and independent tap artists from across the city come together for a show celebrating the winter and holiday seasons.
Dec. 10: Chris White Trio Tribute to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” | Lincoln Park Zoo
The Chris White Trip offers a soulful jazz tribute to the beloved holiday classic. Enjoy a hot chocolate bar and check out ZooLights while you’re there.
Dec. 12-17: The Hip Hop Nutcracker | Cadillac Palace Theatre
Tony Award-winning choreographer Jennifer Weber reimagines the Christmas classic with hip-hop dance moves set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless music. Digital graffiti helps set the tale in contemporary New York City. The show opens with a short set from MC Kurtis Blow, one of hip-hop’s founding fathers.
Dec. 14: Holidaze | Lincoln Park Zoo
Enjoy ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo in an adults-only setting. The 21+ event features holiday spirits, toasted s’mores, photo ops and millions of lights. Enjoy unlimited access to the carousel, Ferris wheel and light maze.
Dec 15: Naughty or Nice | Museum of Science and Industry
Explore the museum after hours at this 21+ event. Check out the beloved “Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light” exhibits, take a selfie with Santa Claus and Krampus and sip seasonal cocktails or hot chocolate.
Dec. 15: Chicago Sinfonietta’s “Holidays of Light” | Auditorium Theatre
The program features diverse holiday music, ranging from Christmas favorites to traditional Jewish and Latin American tunes.
Dec. 15-23: Merry, Merry Chicago! | Orchestra Hall
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs familiar carols and festive holiday songs, including “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland” and “It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Joining the CSO is soprano Ashley Brown, who originated the title role of Mary Poppins on Broadway.
Dec. 19-30: “Sugar Hill: The Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker” | Auditorium Theatre
This reimagining of the classic tale is set to a collaboration between jazz icons Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The show is set in the 1930s as seen through the lens of the daughter of a high-society Black family in Manhattan and her dreamworld in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Harlem.
Dec. 19-31: “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” | Cadillac Palace Theatre
See the record-setting Broadway sensation in Chicago. Max the Dog narrates as the Grinch plots to steal Christmas away from the Whos in Whoville. The show features the songs “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” from the original animated special.
Dec. 22-23: A Mariachi Christmas | Old Town School of Folk Music
Celebrate the holidays with Mariachi Herencia de México, who will perform Mexican and American Christmas favorites. Expect reimagined renditions of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and more.
Dec. 24-25: Christmas Brunch and Dinner Cruises | City Cruises at Navy Pier
Take in views of the city from Lake Michigan or the Chicago River while enjoying a three-course meal. Keep warm with climate-controlled interiors or grab some fresh air on a rooftop deck.
Support local artists and makers this holiday season.
Oct. 1-Dec. 24: Chicago Fair Trade Holiday Pop-Up Shop
Nov. 16-19: The Grove Holiday Market
Nov. 16-Jan.7: Chicago Architecture Center’s Designed Object Pop-Up Shop
Nov. 17-19: Millennium Park Holiday Art Market
Nov. 17-19: Show of Hands: 10th Anniversary Holiday Show
Nov. 18-19: Randolph Street Holiday Market Festival
Nov. 25-26: Chicago Artisan Market: Shop Small (Ravenswood)
Dec. 3: Chicago Artisan Market: Holiday Market (Fulton Market)
Dec. 7-10: One of a Kind Holiday Show and Sale
Dec. 10: The Plant Holiday Market
Dec. 16-17: Latin American Marketplace
Dec. 16-17: Chicago Artisan Market: Holiday Market (Ravenswood)
Dec. 16-17: Renegade Craft Fair
Dec. 16-17: Chicago Art Girls Holiday Pop-Up Shop