Chicago Holiday Traditions & Activities

Chicago is truly an enchanting city during the holiday season. Holiday-themed events and festivities flourish in the Windy City which is aglow with dazzling lights, decorations and holiday cheer. The following is my list of the best Chicago holiday events which are foolproof ways to persuade even the biggest scrooges to get into the holiday spirit.


CGT’s choice for the best Chicago holiday tradition, Christkindlmarket is one of America’s Best Christmas Markets. Christkindlmarket, influenced by Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, is a unique holiday experience as a bona fide German village is erected in Daley Plaza, encompassing the annual Chicago Christmas tree (this year, a 57 foot Colorado blue spruce). The market is free and runs from just before Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. Peruse myriad wooden huts offering assorted handmade gifts and toys, sparkling ornaments, clothing, and imported German specialty goods. Sample authentic German delicacies including schnitzel, sauerkraut, sausages (try the currywurst), potato pancakes, and apple strudel. Cozy up in the warming Timber Hut with a toasty mug of Gluhwein or German beer. Be sure to purchase the annual Christkindlmarket mug for your collection and enjoy discounted refills.
Christkindlmarket, Chicago

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights

Lincoln Park Zoo glitters with vibrant, multicolored lights between Thanksgiving and New Years in this dazzling holiday tradition. Enjoy the free light display and festivities which include ice skating, holiday crafts, sweet treats, and warm, seasonal beverages.

The Walnut Room

The first department store restaurant, the Walnut Room, is located in Macy’s on State Street (cue Frank Sinatra: “on State Street, that Great Street…”). The former Marshall Fields, this flagship Macy’s is an iconic Chicago landmark in its own right. The Walnut Room, with its rich wood paneling and opulent chandeliers, is a throwback to Chicago days of yore. The restaurant is a holiday wonderland from mid-November through early January each year and is decked out with a gigantic Christmas tree, decorations, and visits from a magical fairy princess. Reservations are not accepted so be prepared for a wait; however, buzzers are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Or attempt to skip the wait and stop in at the Walnut Room’s Wine Bar for a glass of vino. And in keeping with tradition, don’t forget to order the storied Ms. Hering’s 1890 Original Chicken Pot Pie.

The Nutcracker

The Joffrey Ballet’s annual production of the classic Nutcracker is a revered Chicago holiday tradition. 2014 performances run from December 5th- December 28th at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.

A Christmas Carol

Another cherished Chicago holiday institution, take in a lively performance of Charles Dickens’ ubiquitous tale at the Goodman Theatre. A Christmas Carol’s 2014 season extends from November 15th- December 28th.

Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light

The Museum of Science and Industry‘s 73rd annual Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light exhibit is an essential tradition to add to any Chicago holiday bucket list. The exhibit begins in mid-November and wraps up in early-January and offers visitors a worldwide perspective on the holiday traditions of diverse cultures. Stroll through a forest of over 50 Christmas trees decorated by Chicago’s various ethnic communities to reflect their own distinct holiday customs. Then immerse yourself in Holidays of Light which features the cultural traditions of holidays including Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Diwali, and the Chinese New Year.

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