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Chicago dazzles this winter holiday season

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2 November 2011 by Luke McCormick

Celebrate in Chicago with Festive Events in November and December 2011

With its glittering lights and joyous atmosphere, Chicago is a delightful winter wonderland destination. The city's downtown area and neighbourhoods shine brightly at this time of year, inviting visitors and locals alike to join in the holiday spirit.

From special holiday exhibitions and performances to popular annual traditions like the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and the Daley Plaza Christmas Tree, there is no better place than Chicago to experience the magic of the holidays and welcome the winter season.

Here's a round up of the best festive activities taking place in November and December. All events are free unless otherwise stated.


Macy's on State Street: 104th Great Tree Lighting
05 November 
Join Giuliana and Bill Rancic of the Style Network to kick off the holiday season in downtown Chicago with the lighting of Macy's Great Tree in the famous Walnut Room at 12pm. The event will include a short performance by the award-winning Chicago Mass Choir.

Millennium Park: McCormick Tribune Ice Rink
18 November to 11 March, 2012 (weather permitting)
Kick off Chicago's winter season with a fun-filled day of ice-skating. The rink, now in its 11th season and drawing more than 100,000 skaters annually, is free and open to the public. Skate rental is available for $10. 

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival 
19 November 
The holiday fun begins at 11am with a day full of live musical performances, celebrity entertainers and family friendly activities along Lights Festival Lane at Pioneer Court. Mickey and Minnie Mouse serve as grand marshals of the evening parade, magically illuminating more than one million lights on 200 trees along The Magnificent Mile. The parade, which features more than 30 spectacular floats, balloons and marching bands, begins at 5:30pm and is followed by a spectacular fireworks show over the Chicago River at 6:55pm. 

Daley Plaza: Chicago Christmas Tree and Lighting Ceremony
23 November 
The 98th annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony is a highly-anticipated event drawing people of all ages to the heart of Chicago's downtown Loop. Live performances and festive holiday music begin at 4:30pm and the holiday season officially commences at 5:00pm, when the switch is flipped and the lights begin to sparkle in Daley Plaza.

Daley Plaza: UL Santa House
23 November to 24 December 
Visit with Santa Claus, enjoy interactive activities and have your picture taken at the UL Santa House, a replica of Santa's workshop where children can experience the wonder of the North Pole this holiday season.

Daley Plaza: Christkindlmarket Chicago
23 November to 24 December 
Experience a traditional German Christmas inspired by the famous Nuremberg Christmas market. Visitors will find Chicago's iconic Picasso sculpture surrounded by red and white crested huts glowing with warmth and overflowing with curios. Daley Plaza is transformed at this outdoor market offering exquisite handmade gifts, unique ornaments and German delicacies like brats, goulash, potato pancakes, cookies and Gluhwein.

Thanksgiving Parade
24 November 
Ronald McDonald, Santa and a cast of thousands march down State Street as over 400,000 people line the route from Congress Parkway to Randolph Street. Whether you're gazing at the gigantic helium balloons, moving to the beat of the marching bands or waving at the entertainers in decorative floats, there is fun for all at the biggest holiday parade in the city and the only one in Chicago to feature inflatable balloons every year.

Millennium Park: Caroling at Cloud Gate
Fridays from 25 November to 16 December 
Chicagoans and visitors alike are invited to Cloud Gate in Millennium Park to hear the beautiful voices of different Chicago choral groups and participate in a holiday sing-along at 6pm. After the holiday sing-along, everyone is encouraged to skate at Millennium Park's McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.

Art Institute of Chicago: Wreathing of the Lions
25 November 
Celebrate the 20th anniversary of this Chicago family favourite tradition as the lions along the Museum's Michigan Avenue entrance are adorned with evergreen wreaths. Performances by Wooten Choral Ensemble add melodic cheer outside during the ceremony and inside the museum immediately following. Families can stop by the Ryan Education Center to create wreaths inspired by the many treasures in the collection.

Navy Pier: Winter Wonderfest 
02 December to 08 January, 2012
New this year, an added week of family fun at the 11th annual Winter WonderFest. Enjoy more time to have more fun inside with 170,000 square feet of rides, inflatable slides, stunning lights and holiday décor, entertainment and more.


Chicago Greeter: Magnificent Mile InstaGreeter

Fridays and Saturdays from 04 November to 31 December 
Chicago Greeter will offer free, one-hour walks of North Michigan Avenue and the surrounding area with local residents who provide information and insights on the Streeterville and Gold Coast neighbourhoods; landmarks such as the John Hancock Center and the former Playboy Mansion, historic hotels and cathedrals; and best bets for holiday shopping. Departing from the Water Works Visitor Information Center, all InstaGreeter walks are first-come, first-served and limited to groups of six or fewer.

Art Institute of Chicago: Holiday Thorne Rooms
11 November 
General museum admission ranges from $12-18.
The tiny but joy-filled Thorne Miniature Rooms are back, trimmed in historic holiday finery. This year, the New Orleans and New Mexico rooms join the festive tradition, and the never-before-seen Americana Room from Marshall Field V's private collection will also be displayed.

Museum of Science and Industry: Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light
17 November to 9 January, 2012
General museum admission ranges from $10-15.
A time-honoured celebration, the Christmas Around the World exhibition includes more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers from Chicago's ethnic communities to reflect holiday traditions from around the globe. Holidays of Light, a multicultural display of holiday traditions that celebrate light or enlightenment, such as Diwali and Hanukkah, also illuminates the Museum's halls during this time.

Lincoln Park Zoo: Zoo Lights 
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 25 November to 11 December; daily from 
09 December to 01 January, 2012 
Enter a winter wonderland illuminated by more than two million lights at Lincoln Park Zoo's annual classic. Get a picture taken with Santa through December 23rd, prepare holiday crafts and watch ice carving. Then escape the cold and experience the climates, conditions and animals of four continents: South America, Africa, Asia and Australia in the zoo's Regenstein Small Mammal Reptile House. 

Lincoln Park Conservatory: Winter Flower and Train Show
26 November to 08 January, 2012
See model trains wind their way through a miniature village set among colourful Poinsettias. The village, comprised entirely of natural materials including willow, spruce and birch woods, features famous buildings and Chicago-style homes such as the neighbourhood bungalow, Chicago Theatre and Water Tower Place. 

John Hancock Observatory: Breakfast with Santa 
Saturdays and Sundays from 03 December to 18 December 
Adults $39, Youth $29, Infant $19
Experience a magical holiday high more than 1,000 feet in the air. Bring the family to the 94th floor of the John Hancock Observatory for pictures with Santa Claus and enjoy a festive breakfast buffet.

Macy's on State Street: Breakfast with Santa Claus
3-4 December, 10-11 December and 17-18 December 
Adults $16.95, Youth (Under 10 Years) $12.95
Enjoy a yummy plated breakfast, children's entertainment and a visit from Santa at this family-friendly event.

Spirit of Chicago Santa Lunch Cruise
10 December 
Ticket prices range from $19.95-39.90
Dine on a festive lunch buffet and enjoy live performances, DJ entertainment and visits from Santa while cruising the lakefront. See spectacular views of Chicago's skyline from the warm climate-controlled decks.


Goodman Theatre: A Christmas Carol
18 November to 31 December 
Tickets range from $16-45.
For three decades, Charles Dickens' classic story, exceptional actors and miraculous stagecraft have made A Christmas Carol a perennial holiday favourite and beloved Chicago tradition. Audiences delight in the ‘Bah, Humbugs,' the arrival of the ghosts, the music and dancing and Scrooge's joyful discovery of life and love.

Art Institute of Chicago: Midday Music
25 November to 31 December 
General museum admission ranges from $12-18.
From gospel to jazz, traditional carols to klezmer, heavenly harp and lute to exhilarating pipa, Chicago's finest musicians offer the sounds of the season in these free concerts held in Modern Wing's Griffin Court.

Garfield Park Conservatory: Live Music in the Conservatory

04 December 
Enjoy live music among living plants as Gina Gibson presents holiday selections including blues, jazz classics, pop standards and Broadway show tunes.

Joffrey Ballet Chicago: Robert Joffrey's The Nutcracker
09 December to 27 December 
Tickets range from $25-145.
One of Chicago's most popular holiday traditions, Robert Joffrey's production of The Nutcracker transforms the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University into a land of beauty, fantasy and wonder. The entire company celebrates with brilliant costumes, ingenious lighting, entrancing storytelling and Tchaikovsky's magical score performed by a live orchestra. This holiday tradition creates wonder for children of all ages.
American Girl Place Chicago: Children's Holiday Choir
10 December 
Families are invited to celebrate the season with American Girl at this festive event, which brings students from the British School of Chicago Children's Choir to sing a selection of holiday favourites.

Chicago Children's Choir: Songs of the Season
11 December 
Experience the joy and musical excellence of the Emmy award-winning Chicago Children's Choir as they perform at the Harris Theater at Millennium Park. The Concert Choir is joined by the Neighborhood Honors Choir and will feature the 2005 winner of the BBC Singer of the World Competition, Nicole Cabell.

A Christmas Story, the Musical
14 December to 30 December 
Ticket prices range from $35-79.
This favourite Christmas movie comes to life on the stage of The Chicago Theatre. Chronicling the young and bespectacled Ralphie Parker as he schemes his way toward the gift of his dreams, a Red Ryder Action Air Rifle BB Gun, it is a holiday classic that will entertain the whole family.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Welcome Yule
16-18 December and 21-23 December 
Tickets range from $20-98.
The merry musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus promise a delightful program of new arrangements, cherished carols and some musical surprises. Join in the fun with sing-alongs and rollicking traditional tunes, including "Christmas in Chicago."


Glitter: a Holiday Shopping Event
01 December 
Discover the best gifts for the holidays when local Chicago designers and boutiques celebrate the season with special holiday items, sales and original fashions at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Illinois Artisans Chicago Holiday Art Spree
14 December to 16 December 
Juried artisans display and sell gift items in a three-day holiday art spree in the James R. Thompson Center Atrium. Take home local Illinois-made items, such as jewellery, photography, paintings and ceramics.

Chicago's Downtown Farmstand
The Farmstand is the perfect place to find locally-made holiday gifts for the foodies on your list, and to buy ingredients and discover new recipes for holiday meals. Open year round, this specialty market offers edible local products, all sourced within 250 miles of Chicago, including fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs in season; baked treats; and a full range of condiments, preserves, seasonings and other dry goods items.

Holiday Shopping in Chicago Neighbourhoods
Southport Corridor and Lincoln Park along Lincoln Avenue, Clark Street, Armitage Avenue and Halsted Street are home to specialty shops that carry the work of independent and Chicago-based designers. Division Street and Wicker Park along Damen, Milwaukee or North Avenue offer an even wider variety of shopping alternatives.

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