Mark Your Calendars for These Iconic Chicago Holiday Events

happy holidays

It’s the holiday season in Chicago! Don’t miss these annual traditions that make winter in Chicago so wonderful:

Thanksgiving Parade: The McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade, now in its 81st year, features Santa Claus, Ronald McDonald and a cast of thousands! Find a spot early along State Street so you can see everyone march on Thanksgiving Day. The parade features marching bands, gigantic inflatable helium balloons, talented entertainers, and decorative floats dispensing holiday cheer. November 26. Free.

Tree Lighting Ceremony: Welcome the 102nd Chicago Christmas Tree to a new location in Millennium Park, a location recognized around the world for its architectural landmarks and cultural programming. Live performances feature Renée Fleming, Danielle de Niese, cast members from Emerald City Theatre’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Latin Music Project Ensemble. November 24. Performances at 5:30; tree lighting at 6 p.m. Free.

Santa Claus in Millennium Park: Santa’s Midwest headquarters in Millennium Park will be open to children of all ages where they can experience the wonder of the North Pole and have their picture taken with Santa Claus throughout the holiday season. November 24: 6 – 8 p.m; November 26: 12 – 3 p.m. November 28 – December 20: Saturdays & Sundays 12 – 6 p.m. Free.

Wreathing of the Lions: Celebrate the holiday season with this Chicago family favorite, now in its 24th year! Watch as the iconic lions at the entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago are adorned with traditional evergreen wreaths. Afterwards, head inside for live music and family-friendly activities. November 27. Free.

Shedd Holiday One World: The Shedd-themed, multi-species holiday show features your favorite marine mammals. Set among the twinkling lights in the Abbott Oceanarium, Pacific white-sided dolphins leap, beluga whales breach and sea lions and penguins saunter, showcasing their natural behaviors set to a celebratory soundtrack from around the world. Begins November 27.

Wonderland Express: Wonderland Express is one of the Chicago area’s top holiday “must-sees,” and a family-friendly, made-for-memories experience. Bring the smartphones and video cameras, as their holiday exhibition delights children and parents, friends and families. Highlights include caroling, handmade wreaths for sale, ice sculpting, holiday market, and the Wonderland Quiz, where you can win a free hot cocoa. November 27 – December 17: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. ; December 18 – January 3, 2016: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Closing early at 3 p.m. on December 3, 4 & 24. Closed on Christmas Day. Begins November 27.

ZooLights: See Lincoln Park Zoo transform into a winter wonderland during the 21st annual ZooLights. This free, family-oriented holiday celebration illuminates the sky with two million lights, including larger-than-life lighted animal and seasonal features, holiday crafts and activities, visits with Santa and sweet treats. Begins November 27.

West Town Winterfest: West Town is giving the holiday shopping season back to its small business owners! The historic retail corridors of West Town have announced their annual holiday shopping extravaganza, West Town WinterFest (#ShopWestTown #WinterFest). This year, the event takes place on November 28 in conjunction with American Express’ Small Business Saturday, which drives business to mom-and-pop shops (including many restaurants) and helps fuel local economies the day after big box stores dominate the market.  From 12 pm to 7 pm, West Town WinterFest 2015 will offer the best in local shopping and dining for the holidays by interconnecting dozens of West Town businesses on Division, Chicago and Grand. Jolly Trolleys will run continuously throughout the weekend, offering fest-goers curated Shopping Tours. The 3-hour tours will run between 12 pm – 3 pm and 4 pm – 7 pm, each featuring six Shop Stops at different retail businesses throughout West Town and one Hospitality Stop at a local restaurant or bar mid-tour to sample holiday treats and drinks. Jolly Trolley tickets are being sold now at: – otherwise the fest is free to attend.




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