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Illinois Country Living


Chicago: a Winter Wonderland
Where there’s something for everyone

By Lisa Rigoni

“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style. In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas. Children laughing, people passing meeting smile after smile …” Verse one of this familiar Christmas carol, “Silver Bells” describes a typical Chicago scene during the winter and especially during the holidays. Indeed, as you become a part of the hustle and bustle, you begin to experience the enrichment of the city’s history, the enchantment of the season and culture, and feel the excitement build along with the memories you create with family and friends.

According to the Chicago Office of Tourism, the Windy City dazzles this time of year with a flurry of activity. You’ll find anything from special holiday exhibitions at Chicago museums to popular annual traditions like the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and the Daley Plaza Christmas Tree to celebrations of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds will find ways to experience the joy and magic of the holiday season. So the big question is … where to start?

Steeped in tradition

Holiday traditions are abundant in many different areas during
Chicago’s blustery winter months. For example, Chicago has celebrated
the opening of the holiday season with the lighting of the City Christmas Tree for an astounding 97 years. It happens in the heart of Chicago’s downtown “Loop,” and is accompanied by festive musical performances.

Chicago’s first municipal Christmas tree was lit in 1913 on Christmas Eve by Mayor Carter H. Harrison in Grant Park. The tree was a 35-foot tall Douglas Spruce, decorated with 600 multi-colored lights and topped with the Star of Bethlehem. In December 1956, the city’s Christmas tree was actually one large tree that had been created from many smaller trees. At that time, the tree was 70-feet tall, decorated with some 4,400 lights and more than 2,000 ornaments. It was located in the Grant Park tree platform at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue. In December 1966, the Tree Lighting Ceremony was moved to Civic Center Plaza, now known as Daley Center Plaza (Washington and Dearborn streets). In 1982, the location was changed to State Street and Wacker Drive, and was returned to Daley Plaza the following year. In 1991, the Mayor requested a large single transplantable tree to be transplanted in a city park after the holidays. The largest that could be found was 35 feet – deemed not large enough for the plaza’s open space. As a result, a smaller version was constructed using a total of 17 trees standing 50 feet. This is the first year since 1955 that the city has used one single tree. It will be on display through New Years. See it for yourself!

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Navy Pier’s annual holiday extravaganza returns in a WinterWonderFest, Dec. 3, 2010 through Jan. 2, 2011. Admission is free, though wristbands are required to participate in rides and attractions ($16-$19). This holiday tradition features more than 750,000 holiday ornaments, hundreds of decorated trees, an indoor Ferris wheel, musical carousel, North Pole e-wish center, large-scale inflatable games and giant slides, Winter WonderStage, carolers, and more! For details on times and events at Navy Pier visit

Shopping – Chicago style

Mickey Mouse and his friends traditionally lead a parade down North Michigan Avenue signaling the opening of a holiday favorite, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival® along Michigan Avenue. It’s an area you won’t want to miss during your Chicago adventure. Beautiful lights, storefronts donned in splendid color and winter scenes are a natural part of the holiday experience. The shopping alone will keep your spirits up.

In addition to Michigan Avenue, be sure and check out Chicago’s neighborhoods for additional shopping options. Division Street and the Southport Corridor are home to specialty shops that carry the work of independent and Chicago-based designers. In the Lincoln Park neighborhood, shop along Lincoln Avenue, Clark Street, Armitage Avenue or Halsted Street, or venture further north to the Lakeview neighborhood (along Clark Street, Belmont Avenue or Broadway) – a great way to pick up those unique gifts for the special people in your life. In recent years, national stores like Anthropologie, Marc Jacobs and Cynthia Rowley have also opened shops in these neighborhoods.

You’ll also find Woodfield Mall, just a hop, skip and a jump away, in Schaumburg. For a complete list
of stores and holiday hours, call 847-330-1537 or visit

Is there a hunter or sportsperson in your circle of family and friends?

In the northwest metro area of Chicago, in Hoffman Estates at the Prairie Stone Business Park, you’ll find Cabela’s, which opened in 2007. The 185,000-square-foot retail showroom is an educational and entertainment attraction filled with animal displays, aquariums and trophy animals interacting in re-creations of their natural habitats. Need more information? Call 847-645-0400 or visit If you’d like help creating the perfect Chicago-area shopping adventure to suit your needs, visit

Music and stage production favorites

Add these long-time favorites to your itinerary to round out your experience. Showtimes for Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker are Friday, Dec. 10, 2010, through Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010 in the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Tickets range from $30 to $115. The Tchaikovsky masterpiece features the full Joffrey company, local children’s choruses and more than 120 young dancers in a transformed theater of beauty, fantasy and wonder.

And at the Goodman Theater, you can see the traditional production of A Christmas Carol through Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. For three decades, more than one million people have enjoyed Charles Dickens’ classic story. Audiences look forward to the “Bah, Humbugs,” the arrival of the ghosts, the music and dancing and Scrooge’s joyful discovery of life and love.

Caroling and ice skating opportunities

On Fridays through Dec. 17, 2010, 6 – 6:50 p.m. Millennium Park will host caroling at Cloud Gate and invites you to join them throughout the holiday season. In addition to the sing-along, you can hear the voices of different Chicago choral groups, including the Chicago Children’s Choir, the Old Town School of Folk Music and the Wicker Park Choral Singers. Read about the history of these organizations at

After the 50-minutes of caroling, lace up your skates and take to the ice at Millennium Park’s McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. The rink, now in its 10th season, has more than 100,000 skaters glide over the ice annually. It’s free and open to the public. Skate rental is available for $10. The ice rink is located on Michigan Avenue between Washington and Madison streets. Detailed schedules are available at the Millennium Park website, listed above.

Zoo LightsMaybe shopping is not your thing

That’s OK, because there is something to do for everyone. Are you looking for more lights, perhaps? Then you are in luck! How about heading out to ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 North Clark St., where you’ll hear laughter and see wide-eyed excitement as both young and old look on in amazement at the more than two million lights strung throughout the park. And oh my, yes there are also – you guessed it – lions and tigers and bears, plus so much more. Animal exhibits even stay open late so you can roam the grounds to take photos with Santa, prepare family crafts and enjoy watching animals of all kinds, from reptiles and amphibians to birds and mammals and everything in between. Lights will be on Fridays – Sundays until Dec.12, 2010; then the lights will be on daily from Dec. 17, 2010 – Jan. 2, 2011 (excluding Dec. 24-25). Call Lincoln Park at 312-742-2000 for additional information or visit

It’s likely that you already know about the Museum of Science and Industry. But did you know it has a Christmas Around the World exhibit? It runs through Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Sunday. (Closed Christmas Day.) The exhibition includes more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities to reflect holiday traditions from around the globe. Holidays of Light, a multicultural display of holiday traditions that celebrate light or enlightenment, such as Diwali and Hanukkah, also illuminates the museum’s halls during this time.

Sports fans take note of the Chicago SportsFest!

It runs Dec. 18 and 19, 2010, at McCormick Place in Halls A & B (2301 S. Martin Luther King Dr.) The event draws more than 60,000 to the McCormick Place says Cindy Gatziolis, City of Chicago office. “There are a great many sports activities and interactive play opportunities in what we call a million square feet of fun.” That fun includes interactive zones featuring trampolines, golf, climbing walls, football, chess, obstacle course, tot’s zone, bowling, table tennis, inflatable tumbling, tennis, badminton, boxing, a pitching zone, fishing ponds, giant slide, 40-Yard dash, a skateboarding area, wrestling and open courts for volleyball and basketball. Hours are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Discounted parking is available for $10 and more information can be found at

There is so much to see and do in Chicago, that you’ll have a hard time fitting it all in … just as we did. For your convenience, we’ve included additional links and sights at We would love to hear about your experience. Tell us about your adventure and share your pictures at our Illinois Country Living FaceBook page.

DuPage CountyDuPage County offers a variety of activities and events

Horse-Drawn hayrides and snow rides

Take a ride through the prairies and woodlands of Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton and learn about the features of this historic preserve. The cost is $5 per person ages 13 and up; $2 for children ages 5 – 12; children under 5 are free. For additional details or for groups of 10 or more, call 630-668-6012.

Holly Days Winter Festival is happening through Friday, Dec. 31, 2010

Visit the Polar Express, Santa’s workshops, children’s holiday cooking classes, a Christmas concert at the library, Paws with Claus and much more! Visit for specific dates and times
of events.

DuPage Forest Preserve District hosts an 1890s Christmas at Kline Creek Farm throughout December,
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Enjoy the house decked in greens, savor the aroma of holiday treats, and see the table set for company.

Snow Tubing at Blackwell Forest Preserve

Dec. 18, 2010, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

The Promenade Bolingbrook Symphony In Lights is open through December 2010

It’s famed as the largest commercial holiday light show of its kind in Chicagoland – featuring more than 250,000 LED lights embedded in thousands of feet of holiday foliage and choreographed to the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. 

Are you ready to plan your winter Chicago trip?

For more information contact the Chicago Office of Tourism at 877-CHICAGO or visit They stand ready to help you plan your visit, from event happenings to special holiday packages at area hotels. Be sure and tell them Illinois Country Living sent you!

Links to special event and shopping websites:


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