A trip to a Chicago museum is always a fun learning experience, but during the holidays, special events, fantastical decor and seasonal workshops offer a brilliant bonus. Only in Chicago can you travel the world of holiday traditions, celebrate with the belugas and eat breakfast with both Santa and a T. rex. Here are six ways to celebrate the season at Chicago's most beloved museums
Through January 8
During the holidays, the Museum of Science and Industry gets dressed up in its holiday best. The annual "Christmas Around the World" exhibit showcases more than 50 trees and crèches, decorated by members of Chicago's communities and representing the city's diverse ethnicities. The exhibit, now a well-loved museum custom, began for local families in 1942 as a United Nations Day salute to the Allies during World War II.
Plan your visit around one or two of the many joy-filled performances taking place on the museum's Holiday Stage. Talented dance troupes and choirs that represent the different cultures and countries showcased in "Christmas Around the World" will hit the stage every weekend In addition, choral performances from area schools will present holiday favorites during select weekdays.
View a full schedule of Holiday Stage performances. "Christmas Around the World" and "Holidays of Light" are included in museum entry, as are all performances.
Saturday, December 10; Sunday, December 11; and Saturday, December 17, at 8 a.m.
At the Shedd's holiday breakfast you'll enjoy a fish-friendly breakfast and hot chocolate, a screening of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and THE POLAR EXPRESSTM 4-D Experiences and a meet-and-greet with Santa.
Afterward, morph into a penguin at the Polar Play Zone and see what the dolphins and belugas are up to this season as you watch the holiday aquatic presentation, "One World."
Children under the age of 3 are free and the ticket price includes admission to the aquarium.
Tuesday, December 13, 6–7:30 p.m.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum will be hosting a Green Decorating workshop: you'll craft your own winter holiday decorations from natural, eco-friendly materials to take home, while learning a thing or two about the plants and animals that make their homes in the region.
Afterward, pay a visit the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven where you're guaranteed to find a moment of zen amid the holiday whirl: More than 1,000 butterflies—more than 40 different types!—flutter about in this green, serene space with its relaxing pools of water and colorful, tropical flowers.
Saturday, December 10, 1–5 p.m.
Explore the food, music and traditions of Greece at National Hellenic Museum's family Christmas party. Featuring a performance by the Dionysos Dance Troupe, the event includes making traditional Koulourakia cookies, photos with Santa Clause, painting and crafts that include designing a Karavaki (Christmas boat), wreath and model Acropolis.
Students in the Museum's Greek Language and Culture classes will sing and dance and docents will be offering tours of the 2nd-floor exhibition, "Aegean: Creation of an Archipelago" and the 3rd-floor exhibition "Reaching for the American Dream: The Greek Story in America."
After the Christmas party, view the Greektown Christmas tree–lighting celebration, hosted by the Greektown Special Services Area #16, on the corner of Halsted and Van Buren Streets at 5 p.m.
SEE the Iconic Throne Rooms Decked Out for the Holidays and a Mid-18th-Century Neapolitan Crèche at Art Institute of Chicago
Through January 8
Ring in the holiday season at the Art Institute of Chicago, our city's historic, world-class and, above all, beloved art museum.
You'll want to check out the museum's splendid mid-18th-century Neapolitan crèche, one of the very few and finest examples of the Neapolitan holiday traditional nativity scene outside of Naples. More than 200 figures, 50 animals and 41 items of food and drink are featured in this ornate Baroque crèche.
The Thorne Rooms are magnificent year round, but during the holidays, they are especially adorable in all their teeny tiny splendor. Developed in the 1930s and '40s by dollhouse aficionado Mrs. James Ward Thorne, these ornate rooms were made in a scale of one inch to one foot and decorated with period-inspired, handmade furniture and accessories. During the holidays, they take on a completely new look. See if you can spot the miniature menorah or the teeny tiny yule log.
December 17, at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Chicagoans and visitors to the city can bundle in hats, scarves and coats when winter hits—but what do our plant and animal friends do to prepare for the winter? Step into the Field Museum on Saturday, December 17, for a very special storytelling session, "Winter in the Wild!", with local storyteller Linda Gorham (performing in the video above for a past storytelling project, "StoryTime, AnyTime"). Also, check out art activities in the PlayLab to learn more about how a variety of plants and animals survive during the winter months. Free with basic admission.
For Field members only: Breakfast with Santa and Sue the T. rex on Saturday, December 10 and 17
Join other Field Museum members on Saturdays, December 10 and 17, for a special buffet breakfast in historic Stanley Field Hall: After breakfast you'll get to share all of your holiday wishes with Santa when you take your picture with Santa and Sue. Not a member yet? Join today and get the gift of the Field Museum!
It's true, Santa makes stops at several museums around Chicago. Want to find out where else he'll be this holiday season? Check out our 2016 guide to finding the big guy in red around Chicago.