The 109th Christmas tree in Chicago’s Millennium Park is lit
Fireworks explode over the Chicago Cultural Center as thousands watch the city's official Christmas Tree be lit during the 109th Tree Lighting Ceremony at Millennium Park, Friday evening, Nov. 18, 2022. Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times

Holiday things to do in Chicago: Lights, shopping, shows, skating and more

Check out this bounty of festive winter events in and around Chicago for the whole family.

Fireworks explode over the Chicago Cultural Center as thousands watch the city's official Christmas Tree be lit during the 109th Tree Lighting Ceremony at Millennium Park, Friday evening, Nov. 18, 2022. Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times
The 109th Christmas tree in Chicago’s Millennium Park is lit
Fireworks explode over the Chicago Cultural Center as thousands watch the city's official Christmas Tree be lit during the 109th Tree Lighting Ceremony at Millennium Park, Friday evening, Nov. 18, 2022. Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times

Holiday things to do in Chicago: Lights, shopping, shows, skating and more

Check out this bounty of festive winter events in and around Chicago for the whole family.

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Whether you opt for ice skating and hot cocoa under holiday lights in Millennium Park or heartwarming tales at Chicago-area theaters, these happenings are sure to get you in the holiday spirit.

Lights displays and parades

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade: Kick off the holiday season with marching band music, decked out floats, performances, an appearance from Santa Claus himself and more at this annual parade on Thanksgiving Day. From 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Nov. 24. On State St. from Ida B. Wells Dr. to Randolph St. Free, VIP tickets $60; chicagothanksgivingparade.com.

Holiday Magic: The longest annual holiday event in the Chicago area returns for its 41st year with over two million lights, a 41-foot-tall tree, a life-size gingerbread house and more. Restaurants, gift shops and select animal enclosures will also be open for guests to enjoy. Nov. 25-Dec. 31. Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield. Tickets $17.95-$24.95, parking $15; czs.org.

Light Up The Lake: When it’s too cold to be outside, Light Up The Lake has got you covered with the largest indoor light display in the Chicago area. Patrons can enjoy holiday lights, a skating rink and a birch tree maze, light sculptures, a free ride on the Centennial Wheel (one free with each paid admission), say hi to Santa and more. Nov. 25, 2022-Jan. 7, 2023. Navy Pier, Festival Hall, 600 E. Grand Ave. Tickets $15-$27; navypier.org.

Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival: For the festival’s 24th year, three areas of downtown Milwaukee will illuminate with festive fun and lively light displays. Hop on the Jingle Bus for a 40-minute narrated tour of each display. And, check out additional holiday-themed happenings in downtown Milwaukee, like “Cocoa with the Clauses” on Dec. 10. Through Jan. 1. Pere Marquette Park, 900 N. Plankinton Ave.; Zeidler Union Square, 301 N. Michigan St.; Cathedral Square, 520 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. For complete schedule and hours, visit milwaukeeholidaylights.com.

ZooLights: The Lincoln Park Zoo lights up with a holiday spectacle for all ages. Marvel at light displays and shows, grab a refreshment at Snowy’s Spirits & S’more, take a ride on the Ferris Wheel and much more. Through Jan. 1. Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St. Tickets free on Mondays, $5 on Tuesdays - Sundays; lpzoo.org.

“Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light”: Holiday decorations from around the world compliment a four-story-tall Grand Tree in the dome at the Museum of Science and Industry. All ages are invited to peruse displays and appreciate holiday traditions across cultures. Through Jan. 4. Museum of Science and Industry Chicago, 5700 S. DuSable Lake Shore Dr. Free, with museum admission; tickets $12.95- $49.95; msichicago.org.

Amaze Light Festival: The whole family will enjoy this winter wonderland, full of twinkling light displays, activities, holiday treats, music and more. Highlights include the Amaze Market and train rides on the Arctic Express. Select attractions have an additional fee. Through Jan. 8. Odyssey Fun World, 19111 Oak Park Ave., Tinley Park. Tickets $26-$86; amazelightfestival.com.

Lightscape: Take a walk along this spectacular immersive trail at the Chicago Botanic Garden to enjoy artistic light displays, the Fire Garden and more. Through Jan. 8. Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe. Tickets $14-$75; chicagobotanicgarden.org.

109th Annual City of Chicago Christmas Tree: Nothing says “holiday season” in Chicago quite like taking all those family photos and selfies at the City of Chicago Christmas tree in Millennium Park. Grab a mug of hot cocoa and visit the illuminated tree through Jan. 8. Millennium Park, near Washington St. and Michigan Ave. Free; millenniumpark.org.

A worker helps a customer at Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza
Julia Schade, 28, an employee of Gift and Candle Palace, takes a customer’s card on the first day of Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza in the Loop, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Shopping and crafts

One of a Kind Holiday Show: Make a dent in your holiday shopping at this four-day market. Browse one-of-a-kind gifts from 500 artisans and vendors while you enjoy food, drinks, live music and kid-friendly activities. Dec. 1-4. THE MART, 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, 7th floor. Tickets $15, valid all four days; oneofakindshowchicago.com.

Renegade Craft Fair: Shop from a selection of local artisans at this festive fair! Food and drink options will be available for purchase. Dec. 17-18. Morgan Manufacturing, 401 N. Morgan. $12 suggested entry; renegadecraft.com.

Christkindlmarket: Deemed “the most authentic” German-style holiday market of its kind, this experience is an annual tradition for many Chicagoans. Market-goers can shop holiday goods, enjoy a warm beverage in a 2022 edition keepsake mug, grab cozy European cuisine and more. Plus, kids are invited to partake in fun activities with Kinder Club passports. Through Dec. 31. Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St.; Gallagher Way, 3635 N. Clark St.; RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway, Aurora. Free admission; christkindlmarket.com.

Ben Dow plays Buddy the Elf in “Elf — The Musical” at the Drury Lane Theatre
Ben Dow as Buddy the Elf (center) and the company of “Elf — The Musical” at the Drury Lane Theatre. Brett Beiner

Shows and museums

Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along: Spread holiday cheer in Millennium Park by joining Chicago carolers in song. Singers from across Chicago will gather on four Fridays, Nov. 25-Dec. 16. Millennium Park, Cloud Gate, 201 E. Randolph St. Free; millenniumpark.org.

Shedd Scouts: The Shedd Aquarium offers several youth programs for Scouts and students to explore this winter. Students in grades 6-12 can dive into Career Exploration on Dec. 3 and Oceanography on Dec. 10. Teens ages 14-18 can learn about marine conservation and explore careers during a Teen Workshop on Dec. 10. Students in grades 2-5 can visit aquatic animals and participate in activities in the Marine Biologist workshop on Dec. 17. Finally, families can take a guided tour of Shedd Aquarium’s highlights in Must-See Tours daily. Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Tickets free - $75; sheddaquarium.org.

The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party: The Chicago Children’s Theatre hosts this interactive puppet show with characters like Peter Rabbit, Simpkin the Cat and Tom Kitten. Toddlers and their families are invited to join for live music and storytelling, followed by a meet-and-greet with chocolate milk and cookies. Through Dec. 24. Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine Ave. Tickets, $43.25+; chicagochildrenstheatre.org.

“The Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle”: From the creators of the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit comes an enchanting holiday spectacle. The Nutcracker comes alive with the music of Tchaikovsky and wall to wall projections that will dazzle the whole family. Through Dec. 31. Lighthouse ArtSpace, 108 W. Germania Pl. $26.99+; immersive-nutcracker.com.

“Elf, the Musical”: Based on the beloved film, the play tells the tale of Buddy the Elf, who travels from Santa’s workshop to New York City in search of his father — and discovers some holiday magic along the way. Through Jan. 8. Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Tickets $89; drurylanetheatre.com.

“The Sound of Music”: The Paramount Theatre comes alive with the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein score. Bring the whole family to one of the most cherished musicals of all time. The lobby will be decorated with festive holiday cheer. Through Jan. 8. The Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora. Tickets $28-$62; paramountaurora.com.

Chicago Children’s Museum Workshops: Kids are invited to get crafty at these winter workshops. Create “Thankful Cards” for loved ones through Dec. 5. Get creative with play dough at the Dough Workshop from Dec. 8 - Jan. 10. Chicago Children’s Museum Art Studio, 700 E. Grand Ave., Suite 127. Free with museum admission; tickets $19; chicagochildrensmuseum.org.

A family ice skates with trainers that look like penguins
Nayelli Gonzalez (right), 10, and Jose Gonzalez (center), 12, hold on to skate trainers that look like penguins as Zaide Gonzalez, 40, holds the railing while ice skating on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park in the Loop, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Skating, sledding and runs

Life Time Turkey Trot: The 44th annual Chicago Turkey Trot welcomes participants of all ages to run, walk or trot 5K and 8K races on Thanksgiving day. And, children ages 2-12 are invited to participate in the Plymouth Rock Ramble Kids Race. All will enjoy festivities at the Turkey Day Tailgate following events. Proceeds support the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Nov. 24. Diversey Harbor, 2601 N. Cannon Dr. Trots start at Fullerton Pkwy. and Cannon Dr. Registration $20-$55; turkeytrotchicago.com.

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink: Pick up a pair of skates and glide along the ice in the festive Millennium Park. Free skating lessons are available on select dates. Through March 5 (weather permitting). Millennium Park, McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, on Michigan Ave. between Washington St. & Madison St. Free admission, online ticket reservations required. Skate rentals $13-$15; millenniumpark.org.

Ice Skating at Rosemont’s Parkway Bank Park: The Chicago Wolves Ice Rink opens Nov 19. Rink admission is free. Bring your own skates or rent on-site for $8 per pair. Hours: Nov. 19 – Dec. 21, noon to 10 p.m. Fri.; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m Sat.; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m Sun. Noon to 9 p.m. Nov. 22; closed Nov 24. Special holiday hours Dec. 22 through Jan. 8. Check ParkwayParkBank.com for full schedule of times/dates for the entire season through Jan. 29, 2023.

Sledding: Feeling cooped-up indoors? Bundle up and head to one of many Chicago-area sledding hills! Highlights include Dan Ryan Woods (83rd St. and Western Ave.), Cricket Hill (660 W. Montrose Ave.), Caldwell Woods (W. Devon and N. Nagle Ave.) and Warren Park (6601 N. Western Ave.). Free; fpdcc.com/sledding, lcfpd.org/sledding, dupageforest.org.