Millennium Park Ice Skating
The first week into December after Thanksgiving, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than Chicago around the holidays. The lights, the shows, the special events – and sometimes even a sprinkling of snow – make the season in Chicago especially merry and bright. Here are ten family-friendly holiday must-dos in this season!

Outdoor Activities

Skate a Figure Eight

Work off Thanksgiving calories at one of the Chicago Park District’s outdoor ice skating rinks, sponsored by the Chicago Blackhawks, when they open for the season Friday, Nov. 29, weather permitting. Skating season runs through Sunday, Feb. 23 at most outdoor rinks, weather permitting.

Find an Ornament for Your Holiday Tree at the Christkindlmarket


Every year, our family heads to the Christkindlmarket, a traditional German outdoor market on Daley Plaza, to pick up a special ornament for our Christmas tree You’ll find everything your family needs to trim your tree, as well as chocolates, wooden Santas, hand-knit scarves and more. Save room for a pretzel and hot, spiced wine.

Celebrate the Season with the Animals

Enter snow blanketed winter wonderland illuminated by millions of festive lights at Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual ZooLights. Enjoy visits with Santa Claus, live music, holiday crafts and large-scale ice carving. Escape from the chill by visiting with your favorite animals, especially the crocodiles, pygmy hippos and meerkats at the Regenstein African Journey. ZooLights runs every weekend from the day after Thanksgiving to January 5 (closed Dec. 24 and 25). During ZooLights festivities, the zoo is open until 9 p.m. As always, admission is free!

Delight in Holiday Window Displays

Macy's State Street Windows

Since the early 1870’s, Macy’s (formerly known as Marshall Fields) has been wowing children and adults alike with its famed holiday window displays and 45-foot Christmas Tree – the giant centerpiece of the wood-paneled Walnut Room. Marvel at the window displays, finish up your Christmas shopping and then enjoy lunch treeside in the iconic Walnut room.

Catch the MiniHoliday Train

The Lincoln Park Conservatory’s Show House turns into a Winter Wonderland filled with poinsettias, holiday trees, sparkling lights, and a model train that traverses through the plantings and miniaturized Chicago landmarks.

Holiday Theater

Step into the World of Clara in the House Theatre’s The Nutcracker

This reinvention of the holiday classic is one of our family’s favorite holiday shows. The House Theatre’s The Nutcracker focuses on Clara’s journey to save her family, reeling from the wartime death of her brother, from the Rat King. Be prepared for plenty of surprises as you step right into Christmas with Clara and her family.

Meet Buddy the Elf at the Cadillac Palace Theatre

Elf the musical

Buddy is a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is grows up thinking he is one of Santa’s official elves. Later he travels to NYC to seek his birth father. Now onstage at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, the Broadway in Chicago performance of ELF brings Buddy to the stage, promising plenty of laughs for parents and kids alike.

Warm and Toasty To-Dos

Enjoy the Holiday Lights from the Warmth of a Trolley

Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Bus Company’s “Holiday Lights Tour,” will take you to see the best of the best holiday decorations in Chicago. From the famed John Hancock Plaza tree to the lights along The Magnificent Mile, from historic State Street to he Christkindlmarket, you’ll see the best holiday displays from the comfort of a warm trolley.

Spend the Holidays around the World
MSI Christmas Around The World

At the Museum of Science and Industry’s annual Christmas Around the World exhibit, you’ll find more than 50 trees and crèches, each festooned with traditional ornaments and decorations by members of Chicago’s ethnic communities. This year’s celebration is inspired by MSI’s new temporary exhibit-Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives-which showcases Walt Disney’s innovative accomplishments and inventive genius. The museum’s 45-foot Grand Tree will be decked out with more than 30,000 red, green and clear twinkling lights and hundreds of ornaments including Mickey and Minnie Mouse trimmings.

Sip on Holiday Tea at the Drake

After a busy day of shopping on the Mag Mile, relax with a hot cup of tea or cocoa, pastries, scones and champagne for Mom and Dad at Chicago’s historic Drake Hotel. Carolers will serenade guests and a harpist will play your holiday requests. Holiday Tea begins on Friday, November 29, 2013 and will run until Sunday, January 5, 2014.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and commenters and do not reflect the views of Choose Chicago.