The holiday season in Chicago is always an exciting time. 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 The 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 Mile Lights Festival?

The annual winter celebration marks the beginning of the holiday season in Chicago. The festivities kick off at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021 with a tree lighting ceremony at the iconic Wrigley Building.

The weekend also includes an outdoor festival where families can explore an interactive wonderland of holiday-themed activities at Lights Festival Lane. The free-admission fest starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. It includes photos with Santa Claus, family-friendly activities, treats from Eli’s Cheesecake, a holiday DJ, and more.

The festival is followed by the grand tree-lighting parade on Saturday evening at 5:30 p.m. that turns on all the lights along North Michigan Avenue.

Wait, is it a parade or a festival?

Both! The free festival leads up the spectacular parade on Saturday evening. 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 more than 200 trees lining North Michigan Avenue (also known at The Magnificent Mile, 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, giant helium-filled balloons, marching bands, celebrity appearances, and live musical performances.

When is The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival?

The festival kicks off with a tree lighting ceremony at the Wrigley Building at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Lights Festival Lane will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. The weekend ends with the evening tree-lighting parade at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Where is The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival?

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

The parade travels south on North Michigan Avenue, starting at Oak Street and ending at Wacker Drive.

Can’t see it live? The BMO Magnificent Mile Lights Festival airs on ABC 7 Chicago at 6 p.m. on Sunday, November 21, with two additional broadcasts on Saturday, December 11 at 6 p.m. and on Saturday, December 25 at 12 p.m.

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.