When it comes to major holiday celebrations, Chicago is always over the top. Over the summer, the city goes all out with major fireworks displays, and during the winter, the Windy City is illuminated and the store windows are decorated with marvelous displays for the holiday season.
From the official city Christmas tree in Millennium Park to the "Christmas Around the World" display at the Museum of Science and Industry, there are plenty of holiday highlights guaranteed to bring cheer to all.
CTA Holiday Train
This is one train you don't want to miss. On December 12, 2019, the holiday train will be cruising through the city and decked out for the season inside and out with bows, garland, multi-colored lights, and more. As the train pulls into each station, Santa waves to boarding passengers from his sleigh on an open-air flatcar carrying his reindeer and a winter scene. The Allstate CTA Holiday Train travels on the Blue Line from about 3:10 to 6:10 pm, making a round-trip from O'Hare to Forest Park.
Christkindlmarket Chicago began in 1996 and has grown in popularity with more than half a million people attending each year. It's the largest German market of its kind in the country, and it aims to stay true to its German roots. It takes place at the Daley Plaza in Chicago from November 15 to December 24, 2019. Admission is free.
Here, you'll find that most of the items are uniquely handcrafted and wares range from hand-blown glass ornaments, nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, jewelry, toys, clothing, and more. Many of the vendors also offer demonstrations of how their items are made.
One of the most anticipated attractions of Christkindlmarket is the official Christkind, a young woman dressed in traditional holiday attire serves as the ambassador for the event. She will be present throughout the duration of the market and during the grand opening festivities, when she'll recite a poem in the original German.
Christmas Tree Lighting
To kick off the holiday season, head to Millennium Park at Randolph and Michigan Avenue to witness the 106th lighting of the official Christmas tree of Chicago on November 22, 2019.
The super-sized tree is covered in dazzling lights and beautiful ornaments—as is much of the surrounding park. Santa is also on hand for photos with kids at the base of the tree, and there is an ice skating rink in the park during the season as well.
From November 29, 2019 to New Year's Day 2020, the Lincoln Park Zoo will decorate the facility with strings of lights and bright displays. They'll even extend their hours into the evening in celebration of the holiday season, so you'll have plenty of time to catch the spectacle. The zoo also provides other Christmas attractions such as Santa's Safari, live ice carving demonstrations, and a holiday express train.
Chicago's second zoo hosts the largest and longest running lights festival in the area. Get into the mood for the holiday season with decorations of almost one million lights, a laser light show, carolers, and storytellers as well as the Chicago Wolves skating rink, which was added in 2018.
Many of the indoor exhibits will be open for viewing animals, plus there will be "singing to the animals" and special "zoo chats." The zoo's restaurants and food stands will be open with full menus and holiday treats, and gift shops will have hundreds of unique items. The exhibition is included in the admission price to the zoo. Holiday Magic runs on select nights between November 30 to December 31, 2019.
Chicago Trolley's Holiday Lights Tour
This customized, two-and-a-half-hour trolley tour of Chicago is a great way to see all the sights of holiday splendor in the city. Hosted by Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co., the annual event happens throughout the season and takes passengers to various locations, including the Magnificent Mile, historic State Street (home to Block Thirty Seven and the famed holiday windows at Macy's on State), the Loop, Christkindlmarket Chicago and Lincoln Park Zoo's ZooLights. Tours start in late November each year and reservations should be made in advance.
Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Lights
From mid-November through the first weekend of January, the annual exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry takes a look at how various cultures celebrate Christmas across the globe. There will be performances from multiple dance and chorus groups as well as more than fifty trees decorated by various cultural groups throughout Chicago.
Macy's on State Street Holiday Windows
Marshall Field’s flagship store opened The Walnut Room, the first-ever department store restaurant in the late 1890s. Macy’s on State continues the tradition, which includes the famed chicken pot pies and elaborate holiday window displays. In addition, there's Santaland on the fifth floor and the Great Tree in The Walnut Room. Visitors can get into the holiday spirit here from early November through early January.
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival returns in 2019 with a full lineup of activities over the weekend before Thanksgiving each year. Free events culminate in the grand Tree-Lighting Parade down North Michigan Avenue with grand marshals Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse.
The 2019 Holiday Activity Guide includes an event map, a schedule of events, and special offers around The Magnificent Mile shopping district. Nearby restaurants and bars can be located using this guide to eating and drinking on the Magnificent Mile.
Held at Navy Pier, the WinterWonderfest is considered the city's biggest indoor winter playground, featuring 170,000 square feet of rides, giant slides, and an indoor ice skating rink. The event runs annually from late November through early January, and tickets can be purchased online or at the door. The festivities last from December 6, 2019, until January 12, 2020, at Festival Hall.