The holiday season is always an exciting time in Chicago. With countless events across multiple neighborhoods, there are so many ways to celebrate. One event I look forward to every year is The BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. It’s two days of free, family-friendly activities that lead up to the famous tree-lighting parade on Michigan Avenue. Many Chicagoans, my family included, consider this event the official kick off to the holidays.

Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about this classic Chicago celebration.

What is the Magnificent Miles Lights Festival?

The annual winter celebration marks the beginning of the holiday season in Chicago. It features a weekend festival where families can explore an interactive wonderland of more than a dozen holiday-themed activities at Lights Festival Lane. The free-admission fest includes live music, visits from Santa Claus, the BMO Harris Kid’s Zone, dozens of holiday-themed activities, and treats from Chicago favorites like Garrett Popcorn and The Eli’s Cheesecake Company.

The festival is followed by the grand tree-lighting parade on Saturday evening that turns on all the light along North Michigan Avenue.

Wait, is it a parade or a festival?

Both! The free two-day festival leads up the spectacular parade on the evening of the second day. The parade is the final event of The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.

What’s at the parade?

During the parade, more than one million lights will illuminate the trees lining North Michigan Avenue (one of Chicago’s most famous streets).

And that’s not all. The procession is led by grand marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse, followed by Santa on his sleigh, spectacular floats, helium-filled balloons, marching bands, and live musical performances by artists Matt B, Ryan Cabrera, and Skylar Stecker. Plus, Benny the Bull and other well-known Chicago mascots are sure to make an appearance. The parade ends with a spectacular fireworks show over the Chicago River at North Michigan Avenue.

When is The Magnificent Miles Lights Festival?

The festival kicks off with Lights Festival Lane on Friday, Nov. 22 from 4 – 8 p.m. The festival continues on Saturday, Nov. 23 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. The weekend ends with the evening tree-lighting parade from 5:30 – 7 p.m. on Saturday. Check out the full schedule of events.

Where is Lights Festival Lane?

Lights Festival Lane is located in Pioneer Court at 401 N. Michigan Ave.

Where can I watch the parade?

The parade travels south on North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and Wacker Drive. Here’s a tip: Find a spot close to the DuSable Bridge, so you have a front row seat to the amazing fireworks show at the end of the evening.

How can I get to the festival?

You can take a car or ride share, but keep in mind that there may be traffic and limited parking. If you’re driving to the festival, note that North Michigan Avenue closes to traffic between Oak Street and Wacker Drive at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

You can also take the CTA Red Line train to the festivities. The Grand and Lake stops are both close to the festival and the parade route, and the Chicago stop is just a few blocks from the parade. There are also several CTA bus lines that can get you close to the action — Google Maps should be able to help you find a good route. Keep in mind that buses are also affected by road closures.

What is I can’t make it this year?

Tune in at 6 p.m. to ABC 7 on Sunday, Nov. 24 to catch all the magic!