A big part of what makes Chicago so special during November and December is the number of annual events that take place. Both locals and tourists look forward to these festivities every year and, for many, these holiday celebrations are an integral part of the season.
Here are favorite Chicago Christmas traditions that bring a smile to the faces of kids of all ages.
Christmas in Chicago
Christmas Around the World & Holiday of Lights
Each year since 1942, the Museum of Science and Industry celebrates the holidays with Christmas Around The World and the Holidays of Light.
More than fifty trees represent Chicago’s diverse ethnic communities, decorated by volunteers who want to share their cultural traditions. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Chicago in winter.
The displays are included with your museum admission, and you can see them from mid-November into early January. You can see the schedule and get more information here.
Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting
The official Chicago Christmas Tree lighting heralds the beginning of the season.
It takes place the Friday evening before Thanksgiving in Millennium Park and, like all holiday events in the park, is free to attend.
The evergreen is a real tree the city selected from entries submitted by residents within 100 miles of the Chicago Loop and it must be at least 55 feet tall.
TLTip: Before heading to the Christmas Tree Lighting, be sure to check out our complete (and completely free) guide to Millennium Park!
Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving and features live concerts and special offers at Michigan Avenue shops. It’s definitely one of the more popular ways to enjoy Christmas in Chicago.
Pioneer Court is the epicenter of all the fun, with family-friendly and holiday-themed activities.
Since 1996 Christkindlmarket, 50 E Washington St, has been a family shopping and dining tradition and is one of the top ways to celebrate Christmas in Chicago.
Modeled after the historic market in Nuremberg, Germany, the market attracts over one million visitors per year. Visitors can find gifts from all over the world, and 65 percent of the vendors are actually from Germany.
Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker
Christopher Wheeldon’s reimagined classic returns for the holidays. Follow young Marie and the Nutcracker Prince on a Christmas Eve journey through the 1893 World’s Fair, a dazzling spectacle of sights, sounds, and enchantment. Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker is an annual holiday tradition that celebrates the magic of the season and the rich cultural heritage of Chicago. Get tickets here.
You might not consider a bar a Christmas tradition, but Butch McGuire’s, 20 W Division St, has been delighting revelers and families for over fifty years.
The Rush & Division tavern is decorated with over 40,000 lights and a double-decker train winds through the bar. Children are welcome for lunch and brunch.
The bar is rumored to have fostered over 5,000 marriages so many of those couples return each year with their kids.
Macy’s on State Street
Formerly Marshall Field’s, Macy’s On State Street, 111 N State St, has continued many of the Christmas traditions that people have been celebrating for decades.
Inside, the Walnut Room on the 7th floor is home to the 45-foot Great Tree and diners eagerly await their yearly tradition of the restaurant’s famous chicken pot pie.
Outside, visitors line up on the sidewalk to see the famous holiday windows.
Lincoln Park ZooLights
Celebrate Christmas in Chicago at Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N Cannon Dr. It’s lit up with millions of lights during Lincoln Park Zoo ZooLights. There are giant snow globes, snowmen, and decorations line the paths.
While most of the animals stay inside you can tour the various houses. You’ll definitely want to check out the Kovler Lion House, since that’s where Santa Claus visits with the children. There are also ice carvers and a musical light show.
There’s a $5 fee per guest and limited capacity, but Mondays and Tuesdays are free.
Related: Learn more about Lincoln Park Zoo
Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along
Bundle up and get ready to belt out some holiday classics at the Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along, festive events that are part concert, part sing-along as local Chicago choral groups lead hundreds of celebrants in song.
This hour-long concert takes place four Fridays in a row beginning the day after Thanksgiving.
Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along Schedule (subject to change):
- Friday, November 26 at 6pm: Chicago Latino Theater Alliance presents Destinos al Aire: Posadas y Parranda
- Friday, December 3 at 6pm: Dexter Walker & Zion Movement
- Friday, December 10 at 6pm: The Chicago High School for the Arts Chorale Ensemble
- Sunday, December 12 at 4pm: Kol Zimrah Jewish Community Singers
- Friday, December 17 at 6pm: Chicago Community Chorus
CTA Holiday Train
All-Aboard! The CTA Holiday Train is a festive Chicago tradition that started through a gift of charity. Employees donate their time and money to create food baskets for those in need, and in 1992 the train was strung with a banner that read “Seasons Greetings from the CTA.”
They still deliver food to charitable agencies, and now they deliver cheer to the whole city, too.
A Christmas Carol
More than a million Chicagoans can’t be wrong — the Goodman’s heartfelt, high-end production of Dickens’ classic has set the standard for more than 40 years, what with its “amazing sets, gorgeous costumes and eye-popping lighting effects” (“Chicago Reader”), not to mention the stellar performances of Scrooge and the gang.
Plus, the theater’s right in the heart of the Loop, so you can experience all the holiday spirit the city has to offer.
Navy Pier Light Up The Lake (New for 2021)
Navy Pier’s popular Winder Wonderfest becomes Light Up The Lake!
This festival inside, appropriately, Festival Hall, lets you have your fill of outdoor fun while you stay warm and cozy inside. It’s a wonderful way to spend Christmas in Chicago.
The hall is decorated and is the biggest indoor, temperature-controlled light garden. Activities include an indoor ice skating rink, a winter market, a beer garden, and a train ride. Your children can also visit with Santa.
Click here for all the details on Light Up The Lake at Navy Pier!
One of the most exciting ways to celebrate Christmas in Chicago is ice skating. Families, couples, and friends can ice skate all over the city. There are neighborhood park facilities and suburban rinks, but some of the best ice skating is in downtown Chicago.
The most popular is the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Located in Millennium Park right on Michigan Avenue, you’ll be skating next to Cloud Gate and steps away from the Art Institute of Chicago with Chicago’s Cultural Mile as your backdrop.
For an alpine twist on your Chicago ice skating, head to Maggie Daley Park. Their skating ribbon is twice as long as a regular rink, but if you need a break there are places to exit in the middle. The ribbon is lined with evergreens and wraps around the park’s climbing walls.
Visit our Ice Skating in Chicago guide for more details on this fun winter activity.
Rudolph’s Rooftop at LondonHouse Chicago
Rudolph’s Rooftop is back for the second consecutive season at LondonHouse Chicago.
Open daily for viewing and dining from November 26th until January 30th from 11 a.m. to midnight, guests can enjoy a whimsical winter wonderland of unmatched panoramic city views while surrounded by imaginative holiday décor and festive photo ops for capturing the moment.
Executive Chef Elizabeth Sweeney presents guests with comforting fare inspired by the wintry season and guests can additionally toast to the season and warm up with a selection of house-made holiday cocktails.
Want to know the story behind LondonHouse, including the crazy reason there’s a cut-out on Michigan Avenue? Read Living Landmarks of Chicago!
Festive High Tea at Adorn Bar and Lounge
Guests can indulge in the ultimate Festive High Tea available now through Friday, December 31. The menu includes savory and sweet food items as well as over 25 tea varietals. A full sparkling wine and champagne menu will be available.
- 1 p.m. first seating; 3 p.m. second seating
- Price $110 per person with complimentary glass of champagne.
To make a reservation, please call 312.280.8800.
Christmas in Chicago is truly a magical time and these holiday traditions bring the whole family together.