‘Tis the season to be merry and bright! Celebrate this magical time of year with Chicago’s most luminous traditions. Here are 13 of our all-time holiday favorites.
Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago becomes a bustling Christmas market filled with twinkling lights and holiday magic. The free-admission market — which celebrates 24 years in 2019 — is inspired by the Nuremberg Christmas Market in Germany. Browse the stalls to shop for handcrafted holiday gifts (ornaments, knit caps, cuckoo clocks, and more), while enjoying spiced wine, strudel, sausage, and other traditional treats from Nov. 15 – Dec. 24, 2019.
BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
See one of Chicago’s most famous streets light up for the holidays during the BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival on Friday, Nov. 22 and Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. The weekend includes two days of family-friendly activities, with a nighttime parade as the grand finale.
The procession is led by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, followed by festive floats and Santa himself. During the parade, the surrounding Mag Mile lights up in a glorious display of more than one million lights, adorning the street’s 250 trees. A fireworks display over the majestic Chicago River is a magical end to the evening.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
This spectacular holiday lights display transforms Chicago’s free Lincoln Park Zoo into a breathtaking winter wonderland on select dates from Nov. 29 through Jan. 5, 2020. During ZooLights, more than two million twinkling lights illuminate the zoo grounds, including larger-than-life animal designs and light shows set to music. Holiday crafts and activities, and, of course, sweet treats, round out the fun. Be sure to swing by the Helen Brach Primate House for a visit with Santa Claus, take a ride on the Lionel Train Adventure through the snowy birch forest, or go ice skating past ponies and goats at the rink at Farm-in-the-Zoo.
Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light
Each year, the Museum of Science and Industry‘s 45-foot Grand Tree takes center stage in the main hall decked out in 30,000 lights during Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light from Nov. 14 – Jan. 5, 2020. Surrounding it are more than 50 smaller trees beautifully decorated by volunteers from Chicago communities to represent their various cultures and holiday traditions. The occasional shower of indoor “snow” adds to the fun.
City of Chicago Christmas Tree
This year marks the City of Chicago’s 106th Official Christmas Tree Lighting, taking place at Millennium Park on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. This highly anticipated event draws people of all ages to see the lights adorning the 60-foot evergreen switch on for the season. Festivities begin at 6 p.m., with the tree lighting at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street officially happening at 6:30 p.m. The evening includes live carolers and special performances. The tree will be lit every night through early January.
Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
This year, the Chicago Botanic Garden will be hosting a magical and immersive holiday experience from Nov. 22, 2019 – Jan. 5, 2020. Lightscape is a mile-long path where visitors can admire multi-sensory light installations by artists from around the world. The display will include a towering cathedral of 100,000 lights, colorful tree lights set to music, and an awe-inspiring grand finale
Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier
The annual winter festival at Navy Pier is Chicago’s coolest and biggest indoor holiday playground. Winter WonderFest features an ice skating rink, Ferris wheel, carousel, and huge inflatable slides for hours of kid-friendly, holiday-themed fun. The fest features a twinkling forest of nearly 500 trees decorated with 25,000 ornaments hung on glittering wire. The holiday fest runs from Dec. 6, 2019 through Jan. 12, 2020.
Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
Wander through a magical, light-filled mile during Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum from Nov. 23, 2019 through Jan. 5, 2020. Marvel at the stark beauty of trees in winter as they’re illuminated by interactive, ever-changing lighting effects. Plus, enjoy seasonal music, bonfires, s’mores, warm drinks, and more.
Menorah lightings around the city
Celebrate the start of Hanukkah with menorah lighting ceremonies across the city. The largest will be downtown at Daley Plaza in December. There are plenty of local neighborhood gatherings hosted by local Chabad groups, like the Annual Menorah Lighting in Mary Bartleme Park. Families can enjoy a craft hour, balloon artist, live music, cocoa and latkes, and more.
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. Afterward, celebrate at the museum with family-friendly entertainment.
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Chicagoland’s largest lights festival features more than one million twinkling lights throughout the sprawling, 216-acre suburban Brookfield Zoo. Select animal exhibits will remain open into the evening, as will zoo restaurants and gift shops. Enjoy a full schedule of live entertainment, including professional ice-carving demonstrations, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, magic shows, a friendly 38-foot talking tree, costumed characters, and a model train display. Holiday Magic will run from Saturdays and Sunday from Nov. 30 – Dec. 1, 7 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 22, and Thursday – Tuesday, Dec. 26 – 31, 2019.
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 with the CTA for a current schedule.
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.