‘Tis the season to be merry and bright! Celebrate this magical time of year with Chicago’s most luminous Christmas light displays and traditions. Here are a few of our all-time holiday favorites around Chicagoland during the 2020 – 2021 season, from a drive-through lights experience to a giant Christmas tree to a museum exhibit that celebrates holidays from around the world.
Stroll through ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
This spectacular holiday lights display transforms Chicago’s historic Lincoln Park Zoo into a breathtaking winter wonderland. During ZooLights, more than two million twinkling lights illuminate the sprawling grounds, including larger-than-life animal designs and light shows set to holiday music.
The festivities include socially distant photos with Santa, gift shopping, warm spiced wine and craft beer, seasonal snacks, and animals in their outdoor exhibits. There will be optional ticketed experiences, like the Enchanted Forest, the Light Maze, festive pop-up bar Snowy’s Spirits & S’more, and more.
This year’s ZooLights will be open on select dates from Nov. 21 – Jan 3, 2021. Admission is $5 and tickets must be purchased in advance. There are also five free days that require advanced reservations: Nov. 24 and Dec. 9, 17, 21, and 29, 2020.
Watch a (virtual) Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
Traditionally held the weekend before Thanksgiving, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is a weekend full of family-friendly fun leading up to a nighttime holiday parade. While there’s no parade this year, The Magnificent Mile will still light up with more than one million sparkling bulbs — and you can catch the magical moment during a special broadcast of the BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.
The show will feature an hour of exciting performances and Disney surprises, capped off with the illumination of the trees that line Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. The holiday special will air on ABC 7 at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020.
Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light
The centerpiece of the Christmas Around the World exhibit is the four-story Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 40 trees decorated to represent holiday traditions from cultures around the globe. Plus, glittering lights and the occasional snow shower adds to the festive occasion.
In Holiday of Lights, the museum honors the traditions of Chinese New Year, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Visakha Puja Day, and St. Lucia Day.
This year’s festivities will run from Nov. 13 to Jan. 3, 2021. Guests must reserve timed-entry tickets before their visit.
City of Chicago Christmas Tree
This year marks the City of Chicago’s 107th Christmas Tree, which will light up in the heart of Millennium Park this winter. Check back for 2020 dates.
Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
The Chicago Botanic Garden is bringing back their immersive Lightscape experience for another year. The awe-inspiring display is set along a mile-long path where visitors can admire multi-sensory light installations by artists from around the world. Experiences include a 110-foot Cathedral of Light, fire-filled sculptures, singing trees, and more.
Lightscape is open on select dates from Nov. 13 – Jan. 3, 2021. Make sure to purchase your timed tickets in advance, last year’s event sold out.
Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
Illumination: Tree Lights is a popular, immersive holiday event at the Morton Arboretum in nearby Lisle. Marvel at the stark beauty of trees in winter as they’re illuminated by interactive lighting effects, including a tunnel of light, a magical woodland, and a landscape filled with thousands of lights dancing to music.
This year’s event, designed with safety in mind, has been transformed into a drive-through experience. Travel the two-mile path through the Tree Lights and enjoy the show from the warmth of your car.
This year’s event runs from Nov. 20 through Jan. 5, 2021. The exhibit will be open on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Get your timed tickets in advance.
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Chicagoland’s largest and longest-running lights festival, Holiday Magic features more than one million twinkling lights throughout the sprawling, 216-acre suburban Brookfield Zoo. Walk through a 600-foot-long light tunnel set to music, see the 41-foot tall tree, see the larger-than-life LED animal sculptures, and enjoy festive food and beverages.
Advanced tickets are required. Holiday Magic will run the following dates in 2020:
- Friday through Sunday, Nov. 27 – 29,
- Wednesday through Sunday, Dec. 2 – 6, 9 – 13, 16 – 20
- Saturday through Thursday, Dec. 26 – 31
Menorah lightings around the city
Celebrate the start of Hanukkah with menorah lighting ceremonies across the city. The largest will be downtown at Menorah Lighting in Daley Plaza in late December. There are also plenty of neighborhood gatherings hosted by local groups, like the Annual Menorah Lighting in Mary Bartleme Park. Check back soon for 2020 details.
CTA Holiday Train
There’s no better way to get around the city than the CTA Holiday Train. The ‘L’ train is elaborately decorated with lights, bows, and candy-cane stripes, complete with Santa and his elves handing out candy to passengers. You catch a ride from late November through December on various ‘L’ lines. Check back for 2020 details.
Macy’s State Street holiday windows
Macy’s State Street is an essential holiday destination. Inside, you’ll find floor upon floor of gift shopping and the Great Tree inside the historic Walnut Room. Outside, however, is even more holiday magic. The storefront windows are imaginatively decorated to tell a whimsical holiday story as you move from one display to the next. Check back for 2020 details.
St. Lucia Festival of Lights
Drawing on its Swedish roots, the Andersonville neighborhood conducts a candlelight procession along Clark Street, kicking off at the Swedish American Museum. Look out for the specially chosen “Lucia Girls” leading the crowd. Dressed in long white robes and adorned with beautiful crowns of candles, they sing “The Lucia Song” and invite children and adults to join in their walk. Check back for 2020 details.