A Guide to Holiday Fun in the Windy City

Chicago winters may be chilly, but things really heat up around the holidays. The Windy City doesn’t let a little cold weather keep it from celebrating the season with festivals, special performances and lots of gift-shopping opportunities, from the Mag Mile to a European-style Christmas market. Bundle up, come out and play.

1. Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

Billed as the nation’s largest nighttime holiday celebration, festivities include a tree-lighting parade, concerts, fireworks and extended store hours so you can get a jump on your holiday shopping. 
 
When: 11/21/15
Where: Michigan Avenue
 

2. Chi-Town Rising NYE Celebration

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Keep your ball drop, Times Square. The city will ring in 2016 like never before with a first-of-its-kind bash featuring live musical performances on multiple stages flanking the river, a mega fireworks display and a countdown that will send a giant Chicago star into the sky when the clock strikes midnight. The free celebration will be televised live on NBC’s local station.
 
When: 12/31/15
Where: Chicago River between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive
 

3. “A Christmas Carol” 

Bah, humbug! Charles Dickens’ 1843 timeless tale of — spoiler alert — Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption comes to life in this two-hour-plus production on one of the city’s most venerable stages. Scrooge’s ghost-led journey through the past, present and future never gets old, even after 38 years at the Goodman. 
 
When: 11/14/15 – 12/27/15
Where: Goodman Theatre
 

4. Skating Ribbon

 

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Lace up some skates and glide along a ribbon of ice winding through this picturesque downtown park where the skyscrapers are like a man-made alpine mountain range. Skate rentals and hot chocolate are available along the serpentine path that’s twice as long as a traditional skating rink lap.
 
When: Late November to March (weather permitting)
Where: Maggie Daley Park and Millennium Park both offer ice skating
 

5. Christkindlmarket 

Inspired by Germany’s market in Nuremberg, Chicago’s popular incarnation ranks as the city’s biggest open-air Christmas festival, with vendors from both sides of the pond selling gifts, food and lots of beer. 
 
When: 11/20/15 – 12/24/15
Where: Daley Plaza
 

6. “The Nutcracker” at Joffrey Ballet

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Christopher Wheeldon will choreograph a new “Nutcracker” in 2016, so this is your last chance to see Robert Joffrey’s version of this beloved holiday tradition. The Chicago Philharmonic performs the Tchaikovsky score live.
 
When: 12/4/15 – 12/27/15 
Where: Joffrey Ballet
 

7. Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier

Stay warm in this indoor winter playground spanning 170,000 square feet of family-oriented fun, including rides, a Blackhawks ice-skating rink and other carnival-like attractions.
 
When: 12/4/15 - 1/10/16
Where: Navy Pier
 

8. ZooLights

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More than 2 million lights turn the city’s free zoo into a magical environment whose glow-in-the-dark displays draw roughly 500,000 visitors a year. Marvel at the larger-than-life twinkling animals while munching on popcorn and sweet treats. The zoo’s expansive gift shop is a good place to pick up some stocking stuffers, too.
 
When: 11/27/15 – 1/3/16
Where: Lincoln Park Zoo
 

9. Christmas Around the World

What began in 1942 with a single tree dedicated to World War II soldiers has grown into a festive indoor forest featuring more than 50 trees decorated to reflect the city’s myriad ethnic communities. 
 
When: 11/19/15 – 1/3/16
Where: Museum of Science and Industry
 

10. Holiday Lights Tour with Chicago Helicopter Experience

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Get a bird’s-eye view of the sites and lights in high style with a nighttime helicopter tour. A chopper chariot takes up to six passengers on a 20-minute ride over landmarks like Buckingham Fountain and Millennium Park as well as seasonal displays along the Mag Mile and Lincoln Park Zoo. Tours are offered Wednesday through Sunday for $178 a person.
 
When: 11/21/15 - 1/3/16
Where: 2420 S. Halsted St. 
 

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