During the Christmas holidays, Chicago brings it. The city becomes sparkly and jolly and hectic and crowded all at once. And there is SO MUCH for families to do. It’s actually a great time to visit.
If you’re going to be in the Windy City this month with the kids (and maybe you need a break from the relatives?), here are a few fun Christmas-y things you can do. You’ll never forget Christmas in Chicago!

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mann The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker" is a Chicago classic.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mann
The Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is a Chicago classic.

Shopping and shows, skating and singing – there are a lot of ways to get into the holiday mood in Chicago. The skyscrapers have red and green lights on top, making the night view of the skyline extra festive. Wreaths are around the necks of the two iconic lions in front of the Art Institute of Chicago. And I’m sure if pizza places could figure out a way to make a Chistmas tree-shaped deep dish pizza, they’d do that too.

With holiday spirit all around, here are some family-friendly options:

Holiday Shows

After 28 years, this is the last year you’ll be able to see a Chicago classic – Robert Joffrey’s production of Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” They’re revamping it and bringing in a new choreographer next year. So this is your last chance to get a glimpse of this version of the Victorian-era story of young girl who has Clara a magical Christmas Eve dream. Her dream includes spectacular Russian, Chinese and Arabian dancers, not to mention Snow Queens and Sugar Plum Fairies. It’s all performed to Tchaikovsky’s famous and familiar score.


Other good choices for families are “A Christmas Story,” at the Paramount Theatre in west suburban Aurora; “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre; or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” at the Emerald City Theatre, a beloved children’s theater across the street from Water Tower Place.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mann The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker" is a Chicago tradition.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mann
The Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is a Chicago tradition.

Ice Skate Downtown

There are two great places to ice skate with the Chicago skyline as your backdrop, even on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

One is the new Maggie Daley Park. It has a “skating ribbon” – a long, winding path that meanders through the park. Skate rental is $12/pair and lockers are $2 each. Or, head down to Millennium Park, and right by “The Bean” (the iconic silver Cloud Gate sculpture), you’ll find another popular ice rink. Skate rentals here are a few bucks cheaper – $10 per pair. More details are available at http://www.choosechicago.com/articles/view/Millennium-Park-Ice-Skating/1094/

Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago Ice skate, day or night, in downtown Chicago

Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago
Ice skate, day or night, in downtown Chicago

Macy’s on State Street

Once the famed Marshall Field’s department store, Macy’s took over the chain and adopted it’s beloved, century-old traditions at 111 N. State Street. You’ll want to buy boxes of Frango Mints (an old-school Chicago treat) and last-minute Christmas gifts in the massive nine-story store. But first, take the kids outside to see the store’s famous holiday windows. This year’s display is “Santa’s Journey to the Stars.” It tells the story of a young boy who receives a magical telescope that lets experience the wonder of Christmas on other planets before landing back on Earth.

You can also visit (and take a photo) with Santa in the Cozy Cloud Cottage, and feast on rich and yummy chicken pot pie in the Walnut Room, which is near the 45-foot-high Great Tree. (Warning: during peak hours, there are long waits at the Walnut Room)



Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago Carolers sing at “The Bean” in downtown Chicago.


Caroling at “The Bean”

Every Friday night in December, at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street, Santa comes to Cloud Gate (a.k.a. “The Bean,”) from 5-6 p.m., Afterward, a local choral group performs a caroling concert from 6 to 7 p.m. Best of all, it’s all free. Check the schedule of events: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/caroling_at_cloudgate.html

See trees from around the world while celebrating Christmas in Chicago.

Photo courtesy of Museum of Science & Industry
Trees from the “Christmas Around the World” display at the Museum of Science & Industry.

Museum of Science & Industry’s Christmas Around the World Tree Display

This South Side museum, in the neighborhood where Barack Obama lives, is always crowded during the holidays. But that’s because it’s so cool! For the past 74 years, the museum’s Great Tree is surrounded by 50 trees decorated to reflect Chicago’s ethnic communities. Which is every ethnicity you can imagine. And that’s in addition to the already fantastic hands-on science museum. The Christmas tree display runs through Jan. 3, 2016.

Cool Holiday Light Displays

Chicago’s two largest zoos, Lincoln Park and Brookfield, both have enormous animal-themed light displays. Lincoln Park’s, called ZooLights, is free.

If you’re willing to go out to west suburban Lisle, the Morton Arboretum’s Illumination makes cool displays mixing light colors in the trees. Advance ticket purchases are recommended.

Holy Name Cathedral – the True Meaning of Christmas in Chicago

Jesus is the reason for the season, right?. So take the family to one of the services at Chicago’s world famous Holy Name Cathedral. Many of the masses are led by Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. The church itself is gorgeous with stained glass windows, organ music and a variety of choirs singing. For a full schedule, go to: http://holynamecathedral.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Advent-and-Christmas-2015.pdf


Every store you’ve ever heard of it along Michigan Avenue, better known as “the Magnificent Mile.” People come from around the country to visit the two-story American Girl Doll store in Water Tower Place. There are a few fun new additions to the “Mag Mile,“ including the massive new Uniqlo store ($30 merino sweaters for everyone on your list?) and the Chicago Blackhawks store (get a free photo taken on the green screen, so it looks like you’re standing with the players). Near O’Hare Airport? The designer outlet mall, Fashion Outlets of Chicago in suburban Rosemont, just opened new Lululemon and Ugg outlets. Plus, I’ve found great deals at their Under Armor and Nike outlet stores.