Ways to Celebrate the Holiday Season in the Chicago Area

As the holidays near, events and attractions all over Chicago are opening their doors. Here's a list of some of our top picks to celebrate the season.

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Morton Arboretum. Beginning Nov. 18 through Jan. 2, 2017, the Morton Arboretum will again be illuminated with about 50 acres of LED lights. Take a magical walk through the one-mile, colorfully lit path, complete with integrated video and audio along with interactive elements. The lights and trees respond to touch and sound, and brand new "breathing trees" will also be rolled out for this year's celebration.
Haley BeMiller
Christkindlmarket. The Christkindlmarket is Chicago's largest holiday open-air market. Inspired by a German market founded in 1545, the Christkindlmarket has been a staple in Chicago since 1996. Head to Daley Plaza to check out the seemingly endless array of German food and drinks, shopping and holiday entertainment. The Chicago market opens for the 2016 season on Nov. 18 and admission is always free. This year, the market is also introducing a new suburban location in Naperville, which opens its doors on Nov. 25.
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Macy's Holiday Windows. Since the 1870s, Macy's has been astounding spectators with its famed holiday window displays. This year, the annual holiday windows at Macy's on State Street will be on display until Jan. 8, 2017. This year's theme is "Reasons to Believe" and pays homage to all the things that make the holidays a magical time of year, like the spirit of Santa Claus, togetherness, giving and love.
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The Walnut Room. Located on the seventh floor of Macy's on State Street, The Walnut Room offers stunning views of the stories-tall Great Tree. Beginning Nov. 5 and running through Jan. 1, 2017, same-day dining reservations can be made by checking in with the Walnut Room host stand. Reservations via opentable.com are available with limited slots. Santa Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner will be held in the Narcissus Room. Tickets go on sale in November.
ZooLights. Opening on Nov. 25, the Lincoln Park Zoo will host its annual ZooLights event. Come watch the city's zoo transform into a holiday wonderland from Nov. 25-27, December 2-4, 9-23, 26-31 and January 1, 2017. Holiday activities for the family during ZooLights include photos with Santa, educational chats, 3D displays, warm spiced wine or frosty lagers, and holiday gift shopping. A special adults-only night will also be held on Dec. 7.
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The Ugly Sweater Run. Rummage up the ugliest sweater you can find and celebrate the holidays by running in the merriest 5K of the year. Join thousands of runners as they run, walk and prance through the streets of Chicago. The 5K is immediately followed by a holiday celebration, complete with hot chocolate and Kahlua cocktails. Registration is now open for the 3.1 mile race that begins at Soldier Field on Dec. 10.
Winter WonderFest. Winter WonderFest returns to Chicago's Navy Pier for its 16th year. The fest features over 170,000 square feet of rides, giant slides, the Chicago Blackhawks' indoor ice skating rink and holiday decor. The winter carnival includes activities like a toboggan tunnel, winter mini golf and a 15-foot "snow tubing" hill. The Winter WonderFest opens Dec. 2 and runs through Jan. 8, 2017. Tickets are on sale now at navypier.com.
Christmas Around The World. Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light are the Museum of Science and Industry's holiday exhibits, opening Nov. 17 and slated to run until Jan. 8, 2017. At the center of the museum's rotunda stands the 45-foot-tall, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, adorned with more than 30,000 lights. More than 50 decorated trees and displays surround the Grand Tree, showcasing different countries and cultures in their decorations. This year, LEGO-inspired activities and decor will also be sprinkled throughout the museum, along with live performances and the chance to take photos with Santa.
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The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Millennium Park's yearly ice rink is back for its 16th season. This year's rink is slated to open Nov. 18, the same day as the City of Chicago's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The rink will open to the public at noon and will remain open until March 5.
Santa Claus House. Santa's Midwest headquarters will be open to children of all ages from 12-6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 18 to Dec. 18 in Millennium Park, as well as on Thanksgiving Day from 12-3 p.m. Santa Claus will be available for photos at no charge, but interested customers must bring their own phone or camera.
Peter J. Schulz
Several different choir groups will take the stage in Millennium park this season for Caroling at Cloud Gate. Santa Claus will also be around to join the crowd beforehand. Caroling dates are Nov. 25, Dec. 2, Dec. 9 and Dec. 16 from 6 to 7 p.m.
Chicago's 103rd annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place in Millennium Park on Friday, Nov. 18. Watch this year's city Christmas tree -- a 69-foot Norway Spruce from Wauconda -- light up for the first time. The ceremony will be accompanied by a performance from STOMP and a special appearance by Santa Claus.
CTA's merriest train is coming back into service for its 25th year. Enjoy a seemingly endless array of Christmas lights and holiday-inspired paintings from end-to-end of this six-car train. The holiday train goes into service Nov. 19 and takes its last ride along the rails on Dec. 23.
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