Chicago Holiday Traditions: 23 Ways to Celebrate the Season in Chicago

From Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Eve, there are multiple ways to ensure your holiday spirit stays merry and bright all season long.


Inspired by the 16th century markets in Germany, the market opens in November and offers quality gift vendors, authentic German food and mulled wine in iconic boot-shaped mugs. The markets are open daily with the exception of Christmas Day and special hours on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.

When: Chicago location Nov. 15-Dec. 24; Wrigleyville location Nov. 22-Dec. 31

Where: Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St.; Gallagher Way, 3635 N. Clark St.

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Lights

Experience a variety of holidays from cultures around the world with decorations and displays showcasing different traditions and celebrations.

When: Opens Nov. 14 and runs until Jan. 5

Where: Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.

Chicago's Christmas Tree Lighting

At 55-feet-tall, Chicago's 106th Christmas tree sparkles in Millennium Park. The event will feature music from Grammy Award-winning artist Jonathan Butler, a modern Latino Mariachi and performances from Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish-The Musical.

When: 6 p.m. Nov. 22

Where: Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St.

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

Kick off the holiday season with musical performance, live concerts and a tree-lighting parade along Michigan Avenue.

When: Nov. 23

Where: North Michigan Avenue starting at Oak Street to Millennium Park

The Turkey Crawl

Hang out at this Wednesday night bar crawl through Wrigleyville before relaxing with family during Thanksgiving the next day.

When: Nov. 27

Where: Various locations through Wrigleyville

Turkey Trot Chicago

Work up a Thanksgiving appetite during the Annual Turkey Day run. Besides running, there is also turkey bowling, cornhole and a costume contest.

When: Nov. 28

Where: Lincoln Park; start corrals are located at Cannon Drive at Diversey Parkway

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

Gigantic balloons, marching bands, festive floats and incredible performances parade through Chicago's Loop to celebrate Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season.

When: 8 a.m.-11 a.m. Nov. 28

Where: State Street, from Congress to Randolph

Walnut Room at Macy's

Enjoy "The Great Tree Buffet" inside Macy’s historic restaurant at the center of the department store surrounded by lights and a floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree.

When: Holiday hours run through Jan. 5

Where: Macy’s State Street, 111 N. State St.

Breakfast with Santa

Visitors enjoy a breakfast inside the Neiman Marcus Restaurant with a visit from Santa Claus.

When: Dec. 7 and 14, 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Where: Neiman Marcus, 737 N. Michigan Ave.

The Nutcracker at the Joffrey

The world-class dance company performs the holiday classic re-envisioned for Chicago’s stage. The tale opens on Christmas Eve, 1892, mere months before the grand opening of the 1893 World's Fair, as young Marie and her mother prepare for their Christmas Eve celebration. The magic of the season takes hold when a visit sets off a journey through a dreamlike World's Fair.

When: Performances run Nov. 30-Dec. 29 with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Matinee performances are offered at 2 p.m. on weekends.

Where: The Joffrey Ballet, 10 E. Randolph St.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its annual holiday tradition featuring hundreds of luminous displays and seasonal activities under 2.5 million lights.

When: Nov. 22-Jan. 5, 4:30 to 9 p.m.

Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St.

Santa Hustle

Work off the holiday sweets and treats with a Santa-themed 5K and kids run. Put on a hat and jingle across the finish line.

When: Dec. 7, 8:30 a.m.

Where: Soldier Field, 1410 Museum Campus Dr.

Young Families Celebrate Chanukah

Families can enjoy full access to the Chicago Children’s Museum with a Chanukah twist.

When: Dec. 8, 9 a.m.-11 a.m.

Where: Chicago Children’s Museum, 700 E. Grand Ave.

Kwanzaa on the 9

Learn about the interconnectedness between Greater Chatham artists who created the Chicago Black Arts Movement and Kwanzaa.

When: Dec. 7, 2 p.m.-5 p.m.

Where: DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.

Pre-Kwanzaa Marketplace

Come out and shop with artists for unique, eclectic holiday gifts. This year enjoy Kwanzaa gift-making workshops and a video presentation. Learn about the Kwanzaa principles and setting up a Kwanzaa table in your home.

When: Dec. 13 and 14, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: Africa International House, 6200 S. Drexel Ave.

Hanukkah Cooking Demonstration

Learn how to cook traditional Hanukkah food from around the world focused on using olive oil.

When: Dec. 15, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe

TBOX (12 Bars of Xmas Bar Crawl)

Grab your ugliest Christmas sweater and join the "World’s Largest, Longest-Running Holiday Costume Bar Crawl Series." Starting in 1996, TBOX has had over 200,000 people join the crawl through the first 23 years.

When: Dec. 14, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: Various locations in Wrigleyville

EBOCH (Eight Bars of Channukah)

For the third year in a row, participants can celebrate the Festival of Lights with a free bar crawl.

When: Dec. 7, 2 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Where: Various locations in River North

Illumination: Tree Lights

A mile-long virtual kaleidoscope of color, Illumination is the perfect melding of nature, technology and the holiday spirit. This year offers new twists as well as popular returning favorites.

When: Nov. 23-Jan. 5, 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL-53, Lisle

Kwanzaa Candy Making

Experience a sweet celebration of the Nguzo Saba: 7 Principles of Kwanzaa and make delicious Zawadi or gifts for your Kwanzaa feast.

When: Dec. 28, 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

Where: Cakewalk Chicago, 1741 W. 99th. St.

Caroling at Cloud Gate

All are invited to bundle up and belt out holiday classics during Caroling at Cloud Gate. The festive series is part concert, part sing-along with some of the city's most entertaining choirs.

When: Fridays from Nov. 29 to Dec. 20 beginning at 6 p.m.

Where: Cloud Gate Plaza, 201 E. Randolph St.

Zoo Year’s Eve

Ring in the New Year with thousands of your closest friends, DJ entertainment, and games while basking in the glow of ZooLights! Food and alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase.

When: Dec. 31, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St.

NBC 5 New Year's Eve Live in Chicago

Ring in the New Year with NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago! Matthew Rodrigues and Cortney Hall host the annual televised fete along with Chris Hush at the Hilton, Drake and Crystal Gardens.

When: 11:10 p.m. on New Year's Eve

Where: NBC 5 and

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