Ultimate Guide to Winter Festivals and Events in Chicago Area | NBC Chicago
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Ultimate Guide to Winter Festivals and Events in Chicago Area

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    Visitors shop at Christkindlmarket Chicago on Dec. 4, 2013, in Chicago, Illinois. Christkindlmarket Chicago is a German-themed outdoor market open during the Christmas shopping season in Daley Plaza in the Chicago Loop. Vendors sell gifts, crafts, ornaments and traditional German food at the market. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    The thought of winter weather in Chicago can cause feelings of dread, but the season also brings a host of fun festivals and events to the city to keep the winter blues away.

    Take a look at our ultimate guide to the biggest festivals and events happening from Nov. 20 through February.  

    November:

    Christkindlmarket
    When: Nov. 20 to Dec. 24
    Where: Daley Plaza, between Washington, Clark and Dearborn streets
    Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
    Admission: Free
    What It's About: Inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, the Chicago Christkindlmarket celebrates German and European tradition with food, drink and gifts.

    Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
    When: Nov. 21
    Where: Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue, between Wacker Drive and Oak Street
    Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the interactive holiday wonderland, a tree-lighting parade from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and fireworks at 6:55 p.m. 
    Admission: Free
    What It's About: Each year before Thanksgiving, the Magnificent Mile lights up with more than 1 million lights adorning 200 trees. A parade and a fireworks show over the Chicago River accompany the lighting event.

    Randolph Street Market Festival
    When: Nov. 21-22, Nov. 28-29, Dec. 12-13
    Where: Plumbers Hall, 1340 W. Washington
    Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
    Admission: General admission for individuals is $8 online or $10 at the door. The family package for two adults/two drinks and up to four kids, including a kid's snack, is $25 online. The "four girlfriends" package is $30. Student admission is $3, and the three-for-two student ticket special is $6. Senior discounts for $5 are available at the gate. Kids under 12 get in free.
    What It's About: With more than 200 vendors, this European- style, indoor-outdoor urban market offers shoppers opportunities to buy everything from furnishings to collectibles to clothes.

    Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Millenium Park
    When: Nov. 24
    Where: Millenium Park at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street
    Hours: Program begins at 5:30 p.m. with the official lighting at 6 p.m.
    Admission: Free
    What It's About: This is the first year the tree is located in Millenium Park, and spectators can watch officials light the giant Christmas tree to kick off the holiday season. Visitors can view the lit tree through the end of December.

    McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade
    When: Nov. 26
    Where: State Street, beginning at Congress and moving northbound to Randolph
    Hours: Parade begins at 8 a.m.
    Admission: Free
    What It's About: The annual Thanksgiving Day parade through downtown Chicago kicks off the long holiday weekend with marching bands, balloons and floats from groups around the city.

    Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoolights
    When: Nov. 27-29, Dec. 4-6 and nightly from Dec. 11 to Jan. 3 (excluding Dec. 24 and 25)
    Where: Lincoln Park Zoo
    Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
    Admission: Free
    What It's About: The Lincoln Park Zoo will display more than 2 million lights as it transforms into a winter wonderland. Some days will feature a Santa, holiday crafts, food and an assortment of other family-friendly activities.

    West Town Winterfest 
    When: Nov. 28
    Where: Various locations near Halsted and Grand
    Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
    Admission: Free 
    What It's About: As fall wraps up, the winter festivities begin in Chicago. Businesses and restaurants in the West Town neighborhood welcome the oncoming season by offering the best in local shopping and dining.

    Wreathing of the Lions at the Art Institute
    When: Nov. 27
    Where: Michigan Avenue entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago, located at 111 S. Michigan Ave.
    Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
    Admission: Free
    What It's About: Kick off the holiday season by watching the annual wreathing of the iconic lions at the Art Institute of Chicago and enjoying complimentary hot chocolate and music.

    December:

    Brewlights Brings Craft Beer to Zoolights at the Lincoln Park Zoo
    When: Dec. 2
    Where: Lincoln Park Zoo
    Hours: 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
    Admission: Ticket prices start at $40 
    What It's About: An assortment of 12 breweries will participate in this fundraising effort where all proceeds go to keeping the zoo free and open to the public. Explore the zoo with its Zoolight decorations while you sip a dozen sample pours of craft beers.

    One of a Kind Holiday Show 
    When: Dec. 3 to 6
    Where: The Merchandise Mart 
    Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 3-4, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 5 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 6
    Admission: Adult admission is $12 (ages 12+), and online ticket deals are available until Dec. 2 for group packages and parking deals.
    What It's About: More than 600 artists will sell their wares at the One of a Kind Show. A portion of the ticket sales will benefit Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

    Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
    When: Opening ceremony on Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. Show continues every Saturday and Sunday in December plus Dec. 28-31.
    Where: Brookfield Zoo
    Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., festivities begin at 4 p.m.
    Admission: General admission is $16.95 for adults, $11.95 for seniors 65 and older and $11.95 for children ages 3 to 11. Zoo members get free admission and parking. Military personnel also get free entry with valid ID.
    What It's About: The Brookfield Zoo features over a million LED lights, new polar lights, an interactive light extravaganza, a 41-foot talking tree, interactive tic-tac toe, a train display, carolers, ice carvers and more. Santa will also make an appearance on select days.

    Chicago’s Holiday Renegade Craft Fair
    When: Dec. 5 to 6
    Where: Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th Street
    Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    Admission: Free 
    What It's About: This craft fair offers a curated selection of indie-craft goods perfect for holiday gifts. There are also DIY workshops in addition to shopping.

    Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier
    When: Dec. 5, 2015, to Jan. 10, 2016 
    Where: Festival Hall at Navy Pier
    Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. On Dec. 5 and 24 and Jan. 4 to 7, it’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it's closed Dec. 25.
    Admission: General admission tickets are $9 online and $10 at the door. Activity tickets are $23 online and $25 at the door. Admission is free for children 2 and under.
    What It's About: This popular indoor fest has dozens of rides, slides, ice skating and music as well as a wide assortment of entertainment, from family karaoke and dance lessons to a community cultural series.

    Chicago Christmas Crawl Through Old Town
    When: Dec. 12
    Where: Various venues in Old Town
    Hours: Starts at 10 a.m.
    Admission: Tickets are $35.
    What It's About: Walk between more than 15 Old Town venues offering $3 to $7 tasting options to complete a “food crawl” while trying out specialty cocktails and other drink specials. Promotional code “events12” gives you a $10 discount. 

    12 Bars of Xmas TBOX Pub Crawl
    When: Dec. 12
    Where: Various venues in Wrigleyville and Lakeview
    Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
    Admission: Tickets are $50.24, with discount coupons available on TBOX 2015’s Facebook page
    What It's About: Opening and closing ceremonies take place at The Cubby Bear at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. respectively, and the event wristband gets you into any of the more than 45 Wrigleyville and Lakeview venues throughout the day. 

    Libation Tastin’ Wine, Spirit and Beer Festival
    When: Dec. 18 to 19
    Where: Block Thirty Seven in the heart of the Loop
    Hours: 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 18. 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Dec. 19.
    Admission: Tickets are $20 for designated drivers, $50 for general admission and $75 for VIP admission.
    What It's About: More than 40 wineries, with 40 breweries and 20 distilleries come together with food vendors, a live DJ and photo opportunities at this wine, spirit and beer lovers event.

    Chicago Running of the Santas Pub Crawl
    When: Dec. 19 to 20
    Where: 4 p.m. at Mother’s Too, 5 p.m. at She-Nannigans, 6 p.m. at The Lodge, 7 p.m. at Coconuts and 8 p.m. at McFaddens.
    Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
    Admission: $25 entry pass
    What It's About: A portion of the proceeds from the Running of the Santas benefit the Leukemia Foundation and the That Others May Live Foundation. There are drink specials, contests and an informal "race" throughout the evening.

    Handel’s Messiah, Sung by the Apollo Chorus
    When: Dec. 19 to 20
    Where: Harris Theater for Music & Dance, 205 E. Randolph Drive
    Hours: 7 p.m. on Dec. 19 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 20 
    Admission: $30 to $60
    What It's About: The Apollo Chorus of Chicago has been performing this holiday masterpiece since 1879. The performance lasts approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes with a brief intermission. 

    Chi-Town Rising
    When: Dec. 31, 2015, to Jan. 3, 2016
    Where: Along the Chicago River between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive
    Hours: TBD
    Admission: TBD
    What It's About: Ring in 2016 with this epic new downtown New Year's Eve celebration, televised live by NBC 5, featuring hours of entertainment on multiple stages with headliner musical acts and a unique star-rising countdown. This is followed by a huge fireworks display. The rest of the holiday weekend will feature an assortment of other activities as well.

    January: 

    The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival
    When: Jan. 7 to 17
    Where: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.
    Hours: shows at 8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Thursdays, 7 p.m., 8 p.m., 9 p.m., and 10 p.m. on Fridays, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. on Saturdays with hour-long shows beginning on the hour, and Sundays with hour-long shows beginning on the hour from 2 p.m. - 8 p.m.
    Admission: Festival passes are on sale for $100 until Dec. 31, and then the festival pass will be on sale for $150. Individual tickets are $15 and go on sale Dec. 1 at 12 p.m.
    What It's About: In its 15th year, Chicago SketchFest will bring together 167 groups featuring approximately 1,000 artists performing 187 shows in front of 10,000 patrons. With groups from all over the world, this is Chicago’s premiere sketch comedy festival.

    Tomorrow Never Knows Indie Music Festival
    When: Jan. 13 to 17
    Where: Schubas, Lincoln Hall, The Hideout, Metro and Smart Bar
    Hours: Start times vary between 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., depending on the evening and venue
    Admission: Five-day passes are $100
    What It's About: The indie music festival mixes acclaimed artists with up-and-coming local talent and national indie acts.

    Chicago Boat, RV & Strictly Sail Show
    When: Jan. 14 to 18
    Where: McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive 
    Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday 
    Admission: Ticket sales begin Nov. 20, and tickets are $14 for adults 16 and older, $10 for seniors 62 and older and free for kids 15 and younger.
    What It's About: This is Chicago’s biggest marine and outdoors sales event. It features boats, RVs, campers, fifth wheels, marine engines, electronics, camping gear, fishing gear and much more.

    2016 Cubs Convention
    When: Jan. 15 to 17
    Where: 301 East North Water Street 
    Hours: TBD
    Admission: Weekend and hotel packages are sold out
    What It's About: Fans can meet team members, participate in Q-and-A sessions, attend a variety of events and panels, participate in activities for the whole family and get autographs of the players.

    Fillet of Solo Festival 
    When: Jan. 15 to 31
    Where: Lifeline Theatre at 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. and Heartland Studio Theatre at 7016 N. Glenwood Ave.
    Hours: Shows begin at 4 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. depending on the date and venue
    Admission: Festival passes are $50, and tickets for individual performances are $10. A free kickoff event on Jan. 13 will sell discounted festival passes for $25.
    What It's About: Fillet of Solo brings together 14 storytelling collectives and numerous solo performers to celebrate Chicago’s storytelling and live lit scene.

    Rhinoceros Theater Festival 
    When: Jan. 16 to Feb. 28
    Where: Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. 
    Hours: TBD
    Admission: Online tickets are available in advance for $12 per event and $15 at the door, but there is also an option to pay what you can.
    What It's About: This is Chicago’s longest-running fringe festival, and this year it’s based entirely on the work of Eugene Ionesco. Over the course of six weeks, local and national artists will present new theatrical work that engages with Ionesco’s Absurdist work. There will also be a lecture series on all things rhinoceros as well as music concerts and new play readings.

    Generation BLACK: An American Renaissance
    When: Jan. 16
    Where: Harris Theater at Millenium Park, 205 E. Randolph Drive
    Hours: 7 p.m.
    Admission: Discounted general admission is $20 until Nov. 26. The box office is open Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
    What It's About: The theatrical production examines race and color in our present-day society by tackling relevant cultural issues in an innovative manner.

    MLK Museum Day
    When: Jan. 18
    Where: Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium
    Hours: Regular museum hours
    Admission: Free with a valid ID that shows an Illinois address
    What It's About: Visit these museums for free on Martin Luther King Day.

    First Bites Bash
    When: Jan. 21
    Where: Great Hall at Union Station, 500 W. Jackson St. 
    Hours: 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
    Admission: $125 per person
    What It's About: This event kicks off Chicago Restaurant Week and features food from more than 50 Chicago restaurants as well as a selection of cocktails, beer, wine and spirits.

    Chicago Restaurant Week
    When: Jan. 22 to Feb. 4
    Where: More than 250 Chicago-area restaurants 
    Hours: Varies depending on the restaurant
    Admission: Prix fixe menus start at $22 for lunch and $33 or $44 for dinner (excluding beverages, tax and gratuity).
    What It's About: For 14 days more than 250 restaurants in the city and suburbs offer multi-course menus highlighting Chicago’s culinary diversity.

    B-Fest 
    When: Jan. 22 to 23
    Where: McCormick Auditorium, Northwestern University 
    Hours: 6 p.m. Jan. 22 to 6 p.m. of the following day
    Admission: Tickets go on sale Jan. 1 at 10 a.m. Online and general admission is $35 per ticket, with student pricing at $25 per ticket. Tickets are limited to five per customer. 
    What It's About: Take part in a B-movie marathon lasting 24 hours with audience participation and door prizes.

    International Kennel Club of Chicago Dog Show
    When: Jan. 27 to 31
    Where: Lake County Fair Grounds, 1060 E. Peterson Road, in suburban Grayslake
    Hours: TBD
    Admission: TBD 
    What It's About: The dog show features prize competitions, access to breeders and many activities.

    SoxFest 2016
    When: Jan. 29 to 31
    Where: The Hilton Chicago 
    Hours: TBD
    Admission: Weekend passes are $40. Kids ages 4 to13 get $10 passes with the purchase of a hotel package. Individual passes will go on sale at a later date.
    What It's About: This the 24th annual SoxFest where fans of all ages can get autographs, photos and a chance to talk with their favorite Chicago White Sox players.

    Lakeview Polar Bear Club Polar Plunge
    When: Jan. 30
    Where: Oak Street Beach, 1000 N. Lakeshore Drive
    Hours: Plunge begins at 12 p.m., but participants should arrive by 11 a.m.
    Admission: Early registration/donation is $30 per swimmer, and regular registration is $40 per swimmer. The event is free to watch, but donations are encouraged.
    What It's About: Every year since 2002 LBPC has been raising funds for families dealing with crises by jumping into Lake Michigan in the dead of winter.

    Steamy Swamp Punk Mardi Gras Bash
    When: Jan. 30
    Where: Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington Street
    Hours: Regular event is from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., and the after-party bash is from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. at Billy Goat Tavern.
    Admission: $50 by advance purchase only  
    What It's About: This Mardi Gras Bash changes theme each year and will feature live music by The Heard and Big Shoulders Brass Band, as well as a buffet and drinks featuring hurricanes, swamp juice, beer, wine and pop. 

    February:

    Chicago Theatre Week
    When: Feb. 11 to 21
    Where: Various theaters in Chicago
    Hours: Times vary
    Admission: $15 to $30 or less
    What It's About: Celebrate theater in Chicago by attending discounted shows throughout the city at theaters of all shapes and sizes.

    Chicago Auto Show
    When: Feb. 13 to 21
    Where: McCormick Place
    Hours: Begins at 9 a.m. every day
    Admission: Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for children and seniors.
    What It's About: Calling all motorheads! The annual Chicago Auto Show features nearly 1,000 different cars on display as well as new technology and accessories to go along with them.

    The Orchid Show
    When: Feb. 13 to March 13
    Where: Chicago Botanic Garden
    Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
    Admission: $10 for adults ($8 for members), $8 for seniors 62 and older and children between 3 and 12 ($6 for members) and free for children 2 and under.
    What It's About: Bask in the presence of more than 10,000 blooming orchids in the middle of winter and spend the evening at a cocktail tasting at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

    Cider Summit Chicago
    When: Feb. 27
    Where: Navy Pier Grand Ballroom
    Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
    Admission: Tickets cost $30 and go on sale Nov. 15 through Feb. 26. Additional tasting tickets will be for sale on site for $2 per ticket. Designated driver tickets are available for $5 and include a bottle of water.
    What It's About: More than 150 ciders will be available for tastings along with specialty food to pair with the drinks. This event is only open to those 21 and older.

    Naperville Winter Ale Fest
    When: Feb. 27
    Where: Frontier Park in Naperville
    Hours: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
    Admission: General admission is $50 for anyone drinking and $20 for designated drivers.
    What It's About: The third annual Naperville Winter Ale Fest will feature more than 130 unique beers from craft breweries around the country as well as live music and food truck fare.

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