I wouldn't want to be anywhere other than Chicago around the holidays. The lights, the shows, the special events — and sometimes even a sprinkling of snow — make the season merry and bright. Here are eleven unique, family-friendly holiday happenings in and around Chicago!
1) Mix history with holiday music at the Driehaus
On Saturdays and Sundays in December, Chicago's magnificent Driehaus Museum (40 E. Erie Street) offers seasonal music performed by James Cebastien from 1-4 p.m. This is perhaps the best time of year to visit the museum thanks to the lovely period holiday decor and music. You'll feel as if you've been transported to Christmas during the Gilded Age at this grand residential building, the 19th-century home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson. Complimentary with general admission. Also on their holiday calendar this month... Santa Saturdays featuring the man in red himself!
2) Stock up on holiday treats at the Green City Market **FREE ADMISSION**
Green City Market is the best and biggest farmers market in Chicago with more than 60 vendors and 175,000 visitors per year. The market moves indoors to the Peggy Notebaert Museum (2430 N. Cannon Drive) Saturdays in winter, and you'll find a wonderful selection of seasonal, organic goodies from local farms including apple cider, pies, pastries, cheesecakes, maple syrup, cheese from local dairy farmers — everything you need for a cozy afternoon picnic (seating is available in the market) or your upcoming holiday dinner.
3) Visit the miniature Thorne Rooms decked in their holiday best at the Art Institute
Ring in the holiday season at the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Avenue), our city's historic, world-class, and above all, beloved art museum. The friendly lions that stand guard in front of the museum are now adorned with fragrant evergreen wreaths that evoke the holiday spirit. Pick up a free holiday-themed self guide to the museum, available at all entrances, and be sure to check out the Thorne Miniature Rooms — 68 miniature rooms that highlight European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s — which are transformed with elegant (yet tiny!) traditional decor elements for the holiday season.
4) Take a holiday tour of the historic Glessner House
A National Historic Landmark, Glessner House (1800 S. Prairie Avenue) was designed by noted American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1887. During the holidays, this Chicago architectural gem offers 90-minute docent-led holiday tours by candlelight that highlight Christmas customs and decorations of the 19th century. After the tour, stroll over to the Keith House, an 1870 Second Empire style landmark mansion on historic Prairie Avenue, for light refreshments.
Saturday December 12 and Sunday December 13 at 5:30, 6:00, and 6:30pm each evening. Pre-paid reservations are required to 312-326-1480.
5) Shop for Christmas with Krampus **FREE ADMISSION**
St. Nick brings treats to all the good boys and girls. And then there's Krampus — the mythical ugly, horned beast of Alpine folklore, who kidnaps all the bad ones. Krampus Mart is an alternative holiday market where you're sure to find one-of-a-kind gifts from a wide selection of local, handcrafted goods.
Sunday, December 13, 3:00pm - 8:00pm at Township (2200 N. California Avenue).
6) Treat the fam to first-class holiday fare with It's a Wonderful Life
The American Blues Theater, Chicago's second oldest Equity ensemble, presents the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, in live radio style, on the main stage of the Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N. Lincoln Avenue), from November 20 - December 27. Live Foley sound effects, an original score, and a stellar cast of eight bring the entire town of Bedford Falls to life, transporting the audience to the Golden Age of Radio.
7) Listen to the sweet (booming!) sound of 400 tubas playing
Nearly 400 tuba and euphonium musicians of all ages dash through the snow to bring Christmas cheer to the crowds gathered at the historic Palmer House Hilton (17 E. Monroe Street) during the annual TUBACHRISTMAS spectacular. Free to the public, this annual concert is a holiday musical experience like no other.
Saturday, December 19 at 12:30pm in the fourth floor Grand and State ballrooms (concert goers may claim entry admission wristbands beginning at 8:00am).
8) Catch the miniature holiday train **FREE ADMISSION**
The Lincoln Park Conservatory (2391 N. Stockton Drive) turns into a winter wonderland for the annual Winter Flower & Train Show from November 27 - January 3, 2016. The Show House fills with poinsettias, holiday trees, sparkling lights, and a model train that traverses through the plantings and miniaturized Chicago landmarks.
9) Indulge in a holiday "kids kart brunch" at Allium
Throughout the holidays, Allium Restaurant and Bar (120 E. Delaware Place) at Chicago's Four Seasons Hotel offers a holiday brunch kart with goodies sweet and savory: Cinnamon Rolls with Paint-Your-Own-Icing, Brioche French Toast Bites, and Nutella Quesadillas among the kid-friendly picks.
10) Find an ornament for your holiday tree at the Christkindlmarket **FREE ADMISSION**
Every year, our family heads to the Christkindlmarket, a traditional German outdoor market on Daley Plaza (open daily November 20 to December 24), to pick up a special ornament for our Christmas tree. You'll find everything your family needs to trim your tree at this charming festival, as well as chocolates, wooden Santas, hand-knit scarves and more. Save room for hot, spiced wine — and for the kids, giant pretzels!
11) Or blow your own glass ornaments at Lillstreet Art Center
Blow glass on a torch and create your own beautiful, round holiday ball ornaments at one of Lillstreet Art Center's many holiday-themed glassblowing workshops. Creative parents and teens can make five ornaments, each finished with a metal hook. Everything is finished and ready to bring home at the end of the class. Celebrating 40 years in 2015, the massive art center (4401 N. Ravenswood Avenue) has a full calendar of December holiday events, from trunk shows to a family open house.
For more seasonal celebrations, visit choosechicago.com/holidays.