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11 Best Holiday Events in Chicago for 2022

December is a magical time to celebrate the holidays in Chicago as the city puts its best foot forward. There are traditions aplenty throughout Chicagoland, if you know where to look. The holiday season has something for everyone, and these are the holiday events in Chicago we wouldn’t want to miss!

11 Best Holiday Events in Chicago

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11 Best Events to Celebrate Christmas in Chicago

Everything kicks off in mid-November with the annual Chicago Christmas parade. The The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is a tree-lighting parade along Michigan Avenue. Grand Marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse lead characters from Disney World, beautiful floats, and marching bands from along the route.

Once the tree is lit, the rest of the city rolls out the holiday finery. Here are some of the best holiday events in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.


1.  Skating and caroling at Millennium Park

The city’s Christmas tree spends the holiday season dazzling visitors in Millennium Park alongside the McCormick Tribune ice skating rink. Ice skating is free, so you can either bring your own skates or rent them at the rink. It’s the perfect spot for taking in the Chicago architecture and the iconic “Bean” (officially known as Cloud Gate) sculpture.

There is also an ice skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, adjacent to Millennium Park.

Kids love skating at the Maggie Daley ice ribbon!

When finished, enjoy food and drinks at the café or any of the restaurants on Michigan Avenue. There are so many family-friendly places to eat in Chicago!

2. Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Lightscape returns for its second year at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The gardens come alive at night with over 750,000 lights decorating the trees and plants along lighted paths. There are interactive lights, a tunnel of light, and a choir of singing trees. Favorite displays include the luminous Winter Cathedral and a reimagined fire garden.

Lightscape Chicago botanical garden
Photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden

3. Christkindl Market – Chicago Christmas Market

Having explored multiple German Christmas markets, I can say the Christkindl Market in Chicago is about as authentic as it gets. There are stalls filled with ornaments, food, and cuckoo clocks throughout Daley Plaza. The market includes vendors from all over, including Germany, Nepal, and Poland. Christkindl Market is free, but it can be very crowded on weekends.

Christkindl Market Holidays in Chicago-Kids Are A Trip
Yes, the market is crowded!

There are also locations in Wrigleyville and Aurora that are equally popular on weekends.

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If you want to know what a real Christmas market is like, read our post about how to navigate the German Christmas Markets or read about the best Christmas markets in Europe.

4. The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker

The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker is a true Christmas in Chicago tradition. Families return year after year to see the amazing costumes, performances, and brilliant storytelling. 

Over one hundred local children are cast as dancers in the performance, making it a true Chicago production. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has adapted this version set inside the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

5. Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light at The Museum of Science and Industry

Celebrating eighty years, the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light is one of our favorite family traditions. The museum is decorated with more than 50 trees and displays representing countries and traditions from around the world.

MSI Holidays Around the World
Photo credit: Museum of Science and Industry

Each year a majestic 45-foot tree is the centerpiece of the exhibit (in the past, there have been Peanuts, Disney, and LEGO-themed trees). 

Every half hour snow falls from the ceiling making the museum magical. On the weekends there are dance and music performances from around the world. This is definitely worth a visit during the holidays.

6. Afternoon tea or a holiday lunch in Chicago

There are places to enjoy holiday tea in Chicago, and what better way to celebrate with friends and loved ones than spending a special afternoon together?

Afternoon tea holidays

Some of our favorite places for afternoon tea in Chicago include the Drake Hotel, The Peninsula, The Langham, and Russian Tea Time. All of them have something that makes them unique in our book.

Many families enjoy a holiday meal at the famous Walnut Room (a Chicago staple since 1907) inside Macy’s department store, enjoying the beautiful Christmas tree and holiday windows to celebrate a day on the town.

7. Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum

Illumination returns to The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, about 35 minutes southwest of the city. This is the 10th year that the trees and plants of the Arboretum come alive at night, decorated with thousands of interactive dazzling LED lights.

The Morton Arboretum Christmas in Chicago
Photo credit: Morton Arboretum

Visitors wander along a mile-long trail, while music from the Chicago Symphony provides the accompaniment. You will be awed and delighted by the first-ever Illumination display in the Arboretum’s new Grand Garden, leading to a spectacular laser-light finale.  Some nights feature live musical performances. Fire pits and warming tents along the way help keep visitors toasty on cold December evenings. Purchase tickets online before heading out.

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8. Holiday Shows in Chicago

There are several holiday performances throughout the city, but these are a couple of our favorites. You can’t go wrong with either production.

The Music Box Theatre screens the “Sound of Music” with subtitles so the audience can sing a long. There’s also a costume contest and a vocal warm-up led by the house organist. It’s fun for all ages.

It’s A Wonderful Life” is performed as a “live” 1940s radio broadcast, at the American Blues Theater. It comes complete with commercials, holiday carols, and telegrams from the audience read live on stage.

This is a truly interactive experience, and the audience is even invited to enjoy milk and cookies with the cast after the show. It is a unique production that shouldn’t be missed this holiday season.

9. Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic or Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights

There are two main zoos in Chicago, and families can see Christmas lights at the Brookfield Zoo and the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic includes a holiday light show, animal encounters, ice skating, and photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Zoo-goers can stroll along paths covered with more than two million twinkling LED lights. There’s also a 600-foot-long Tunnel of Lights with thousands of colored lights all synchronized to music.

Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic
More than two million LED lights illuminate Brookfield Zoo during its annual festive Holiday Magic®. Photo credit: CZS-Brookfield Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights features light shows, ice carving, animal encounters, ice skating, and visits with Santa.

Lincoln Park Zoo charges $5 for general admission and they offer members-only and sensory-friendly nights. Brookfield Zoo charges admission, but there are discounts available for zoo members and they offer free admission for the military. The zoo events can be crowded, so choose a colder weeknight and dress warmly.

10. See some of the best Christmas lights in Chicago at the Lincolnwood Towers neighborhood

One of my favorite holiday traditions as a kid was piling in the car and driving around to see holiday lights in our neighborhood while the stereo played Christmas music.

The Edgebrook/Sauganash neighborhood (essentially Pratt Avenue on the north, Edens Expressway on the east, Devon Avenue to the south, and Cicero Avenue on the west) has taken this to the next level, creating a neighborhood Christmas light experience like no other. It’s the perfect family event and no one will complain they’re cold.

11. Experience “Light Up the Lake” at Navy Pier

Light Up the Lake, an indoor, temperature-controlled experience returns to Navy Pier for its second season. It features large-scale light-sculpture displays with over 600,000 lights, a regulation-size Alpine ice rink, an authentic holiday beer garden, kiddie train rides, Santa’s Village, a gift market, and more.

Light Up the Lake Navy Pier
Photo credit: Navy Pier

Light Up the Lake will also offer sit-down dining with holiday-themed eats, signature cocktails, and seasonal brews. Grab-and-go meals and snacks are available too. Don’t miss this fun event!


  1. You are so lucky to have done the ballet! I really want to do it, but with 3 boys I may end up going alone!

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