The Most Festive Events in Chicago This Holiday Season
Brighten up your winter.
With traditional drunken holiday parties from Santacon to TBOX cancelled for 2020, it’s time to discover a slightly more low-key way to celebrate the holidays. And if that involves drive-in holiday movies, virtual concerts, and over-the-top light displays, we’ll take it. So be grateful for what you have, wear a festive holiday mask, and celebrate the end of 2020 at these top holiday events around Chicago.
Frontier’s special meat-centric holiday menu featuring smoked prime rib, tenderloin, whole smoked turkey, and more is available the entire month of December—including Christmas Eve—so there’s no excuse for a frozen pizza Christmas.
Cost: Pricing varies
Public transit doesn’t have to be a drag, as the CTA is once again dressing up its trains and buses in full holiday cheer for 2020. The CTA Holiday Train includes a six-car display decked out with festive holiday scenes, thousands of lights, and bright LED signage displays. You can’t board the train or bus this year, but you can at least wave and take photos as it goes by.
This 10-12 minute virtual experience will guide you and your crew through five holiday scenes guided by “Elf Pickles” before culminating in a personal 5-minute video chat with Santa Claus himself. Don’t blow it.
Get your fill of holiday classics at a local drive-in movie theatreNow through December 26
One positive byproduct of this endless pandemic is the preponderance of drive-in movie locations across the city, several of which are open for the holidays for your drive-in holiday movie pleasure. Hit up Chi-Town Movies, the Drive-In at Lincoln Yards, and SeatGeek Stadium for a range of seasonal classics from Elf to Die Hard. There are also two new pop-up holiday drive-in movie experiences from the folks at Replay including the Miracle on West Madison downtown and the Holly Jolly Drive-In in Lincoln Park.
Phillips Park, Aurora
One of the largest free outdoor holiday drive-through holiday light displays in northern Illinois returns to Aurora, with more than one mile of lights and holiday displays providing fun for the whole family.
Cost: Free (donations accepted)
One of Chicago’s most iconic holiday events goes virtual this year with 47 Christkindlmarket vendors hawking their beloved holiday-centric wares online as part of its first-ever “Home for the Holidays” virtual market.
Cost: Depends on what you buy
The Joffrey Ballet’s presentation of The Nutcracker will be screened on the 2.5-acre river façade of the Merchandise Mart set to music nightly at 7 pm as part of this year’s Art on theMART digital projection series, best viewed from the Chicago Riverwalk between Wells and Franklin.
The Goodman Theatre presents this free audio streaming version of the Charles Dickens classic for housebound revelers in 2020.
Cost: Free (donations accepted)
One of the most beautiful locations in the Chicago metro area becomes even more enticing over the holidays as this year’s Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum is reimagined for 2020 as a 30-40 minute driving experience.
Lincoln Park Zoo
It wouldn’t be the holidays in Chicago without the annual ZooLights illuminated display at Lincoln Park Zoo, a massive spectacle featuring a light maze, hundreds of large-scale displays, a holiday pop-up, and socially distanced photos with Santa.
Chicago Botanic Garden
Is there any better date night than a romantic stroll on this illuminated trail through the Chicago Botanic Garden after dark? Rhetorical question.
1467 N. Elston
Set in the same 2+-acre Goose Island location as the Jack’s Pumpkin Halloween pop-up, the Jack Frost Winter Walk & Christmas Tree Farm includes trees for purchase in an evergreen forest popping up in the middle of the city. There will be no food/drink on site, and visits are limited to 1.5 hours.
Cost: $21 - $120
Stop by The Dawson every Saturday from 11 am - 3 pm this winter for to-go cocktails, wine packs, seasonal pastries, steaks, chops, bacon, sausages, and Christmas trees and wreaths. In other words, everything you need to start the party at home.
Cost: No cover
Support local business and sample holiday treats at the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce’s annual Holiday Treat Stroll, with purchase necessary to prevent crowding. There is also an online component, with one-day 25% off discounts available from more than 185 local businesses.
This DIY market that started in 2010 goes virtual for 2020 with an array of indie vendors hawking wares that focus on unique creations in the themes of recycled art, wellness, green initiatives, functional art, and more.
Legendary Chicago punk rockers The Lawrence Arms host their annual War on X-Mas show in virtual format for 2020, with special guest appearances and plenty of “holiday weirdness” to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
With large-scale events like Chicago’s annual Jingle Jog cancelled for 2020, this virtual run still allows you to run your own route (or treadmill) as you raise money for the Arthritis Foundation. And yes, you still get a T-shirt.
1515 Lake Cook Road, Northbrook
The North Shore’s largest drive-through holiday light display features synchronized lights, glowing snowmen, sparkling candy canes, and a Santa’s bag of holiday cheer from a safe distance.
Chicago singer/songwriter Alisa Rosenthal hosts this virtual musical livestreamed Hanukkah gathering with Hanukkah songs, stories, an ugly sweater contest and more.
101.1 WKQX’s annual Night We Stole Christmas concert series goes virtual for 2020 with livestreamed performances from Glass Animals, Cold War Kids, and Wallows, all happening on December 23 (aka Festivus.)
Chicago Sport & Social’s annual New Year’s Eve 5K takes to the interwebs for 2020 with a weeklong virtual 5K to benefit Direct Relief.
What better way to close out this weird year than a New Year’s Eve party from the comfort of your car? Stop by SeatGeek Stadium for a full lineup of live house music performances with food/drink and a fireworks show. Masks and social distancing required, obviously.
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