Favorite Chicago Christmas Events and Traditions

Christkindlmarket Naperville

Chicago is a wonderful city to visit any time of the year but during the holiday season it turns into a winter wonderland. Here are favorite Chicago Christmas traditions that bring a smile to the faces of kids of all ages.

Christmas Around the World & Holiday of Lights

November 15 - January 6

Each year the Museum of Science and Industry, celebrates the holidays with Christmas Around The World and the Holidays of Light. More than fifty trees represent Chicago's diverse ethnic communities, decorated by volunteers who want to share their cultural traditions.

Museum of Science and Industry Christmas Around the World Grand Tree [Alison Neidt Toonen, Museum of Science and Industry]

Photo credit Alison Neidt Toonen, Museum of Science and Industry

Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting

November 22, 6pm

The lighting of the official Christmas Tree of Chicago heralds the beginning of the season. It takes place the Friday evening before Thanksgiving in Millennium Park and, like all holiday events in the park, is free to attend. The evergreen is a real tree that's been selected from entries submitted by residents within 100 miles of the Chicago Loop and it must be at least 55 feet tall.

Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

TLTip: Before heading to the Christmas Tree Lighting, be sure to check out our complete (and completely free) guide to Millennium Park!

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

November 16 & 17

Considered the official kick-off of the holiday season in Chicago, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival features live concerts and special offers at Michigan Avenue shops. Pioneer Court is the epicenter of all the fun, with family friendly and holiday themed activities. Local favorites Connie’s Pizza, Garrett Popcorn, The Eli’s Cheesecake Company will be on hand, and so will Santa Claus! There will be a parade and a spectacular fireworks display over the Chicago River.

Click here to find Boutique Hotels near the Magnificent Mile

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival


November 16 - December 24

Since 1996 Christkindlmarket, 50 E Washington St, has been a family shopping and dining tradition in Chicago. Modeled after the historic market in Nuremberg, Germany, the market attracts over one million visitors per year. Visitors can find gifts from all over the world, and 65 percent of the vendors are actually from Germany. They've also got a market in Naperville, located at Naper Settlement, and a market at the Park at Wrigley.

Christkindlmarket Ornaments

Butch McGuire's

November - December

You might not consider a bar a Christmas tradition, but Butch McGuire's, 20 W Division St, has been delighting revelers and families for over fifty years. The Rush & Division tavern is decorated with over 40,000 lights and a double-decker train winds through the bar. Children are welcome for lunch and brunch. The bar is rumored to have fostered over 5,000 marriages so many of those couples return each year with their kids.

Butch McGuire's Christmas Decorations

Photo courtesy Butch McGuire's

Macy's on State Street

November - December

Formerly Marshall Field's, Macy's On State Street, 111 N State St, has continued many of the Christmas traditions that people have been celebrating for decades. Inside, the Walnut Room on the 7th floor is home to the 45-foot Great Tree and diners eagarly await their yearly tradition of the restaurant's famous chicken pot pie. Outside, visitors line up on the sidewalk to see the famous holiday windows.

Macy's State Street Christmas Windows

Lincoln Park ZooLights

November 23 - January 6

Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N Cannon Dr, is lit up with millions of lights during ZooLights. There are giant snow globes, snowmen, and decorations line the paths. While most of the animals stay inside you can tour the various houses. You'll definitely want to check out the Kovler Lion House, since that's where Santa visits with the children. There are also ice carvers and a musical light show.

Lincoln Park ZooLights

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo

Caroling at Cloud Gate

Fridays November 23 - December 14 and Wednesday, December 12

Bundle up and get ready to belt out some holiday classics at Caroling at Cloud Gate, festive events that are part concert, part sing-along as local Chicago choral groups lead hundreds of celebrants in song.

Caroling at Cloud Gate

Photo courtesy City of Chicago

Winter Wonderfest

November 30 - January 6

For the month of December Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave, becomes Winter Wonderfest. This festival inside, appropriately, Festival Hall, lets you have your fill of outdoor fun while you stay warm and cozy inside. The hall is decorated with trees and candy canes and activities include an indoor ice skating rink, an indoor Ferris Wheel, a zip line, inflatable slide, a carousel, spinning cups, and a train ride. Your children can also visit with Santa.

Navy Pier Winter Wonderfest

Photo courtesy Winter Wonderfest

Chicago at Christmas is truly a magical time and these holiday traditions bring the whole family together.

In addition to these holiday traditions there are many more fun things to do. You can find these Christmas in Chicago events and activities on our complete list.

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Favorite Chicago Christmas Traditions - Celebrate Christmas in Chicago with these annual holiday events and traditions
20 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60610
Located in the heart of Chicago, IL right next to the popular Rush & Division area, Butch McGuire's has been one of Chicago's favorite saloons for over 50 years.
Butch McGuire's
50 W Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602
2200 N Cannon Dr, Chicago, IL 60614
111 N State St, Chicago, IL 60602
201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60202
In Millennium Park, you’ll find a new kind of town square – a lively, spectacular gathering spot located in the heart of the city and a destination for Chicagoans and visitors alike.
Millennium Park Map
600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Navy Pier is the People’s Pier, Chicago’s lake front treasure, welcoming all and offering dynamic and eclectic experiences through partnerships and programs that inspire discovery and wonder.
Navy Pier Logo