Holiday Guide

Find all sorts of Chicago Holiday Events and Activities for your family, from lighting events to meals with Santa to holiday plays and performances and more. Below, see our guide to some of the best of this year's holiday events and activities!


Holiday Highlights

The Festival of Lights & Christmas Tree Sale
Cosley Zoo, 1356 North Gary Ave., Wheaton
November 24-December 30
Cosley Zoo is transformed into a winter wonderland with 20,000 twinkling lights creating spectacular displays, an amazing selection of Christmas trees for you to purchase, hot chocolate and holiday gifts. All proceeds support the zoo, its animals, programs and exhibit development. Zoo admission is free during the Festival of Lights and Tree Sales, although donations are greatly appreciated. Cosley Zoo is open 9A-9P with the lights turning on at 3P. Zoo is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Zoo is open 9am - 12pm on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

Ruth Page Civic Ballet's The Nutcracker
Northeastern Illinois University Auditorium Fine Arts Bldg, 3701 West Bryn Mawr, Chicago
December 2-3
The Ruth Page Civic Ballet's popular re-creation of this holiday family classic is back for FOUR PERFORMANCES ONLY. Order your tickets early as all previous performances have sold out each year! Originally presented in the Crown Theatre from 1965 until 1997, this production recreates highlights from Ruth Page's beloved original full-length staging. Exquisite dancing, world-renowned guest artists, stunning costumes and magical settings in the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of the Sweets, The Nutcracker promises holiday joy for children of all ages!

'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Emerald City Theatre at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 E Chestnut St., Chicago
November 12 - December 31
'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, creatures were stirring, including a mouse! Kick off your family's yuletide season with this comic take on the classic poem. When Santa's Naughty or Nice list has gone missing, it's up to a pair of dancing mice, a spunky girl, and an Elf-B-I agent to solve the mystery before Santa boards his sleigh. This Chicago premiere is a holiday gift for all ages!

Caroling at Cloud Gate
Millennium Park's Cloud Gate, Chicago
Fridays, November 24, December 1, 8, 15, 6-7pm
Bundle up and get ready to belt out some holiday classics at these festive events that are part concert, part sing-along as local Chicago choral groups lead hundreds of celebrants in song. A schedule of performances will be announced on the City of Chicago's web site. Performances may be shortened in cases of extreme cold weather.

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light
Museum of Science and Industry, 57th St. and Lake Shore Dr., Chicago
November 16 - January 7
The Museum’s beloved annual celebration features a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe. On the weekends, you can also enjoy live holiday performances.

Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago
November 24 - January 7
Join us for the brilliance of this fun, free, family-oriented holiday celebration, featuring luminous displays and holiday-season activities throughout zoo grounds. Activities include Photos with Santa (through December 23), 3D displays, Warm spiced wine and frosty lager, Delicious holiday snacks, Holiday gift shopping, Live ice-sculpture carving, Carousel, train, ferris wheel, Light Maze and much more. Lights are up during regular hours, with special activities from 4:30 - 9pm on November 24–26, December 1–3, 8–23, 26–31 and January 1–7 with hours from 4:30 - 9pm.

Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. Holiday Lights Tour
Starts at John Hancock Center Plaza, 875 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago
November 24 - December 23
Experience the magic of the holidays with Chicago’s most spectacular light displays at the city’s most popular destinations, with a 2.5 hour festive trolley tour that makes stops to let you hop off and explore the magic of Chicago’s lights and sights. The tour includes Sprinkles cupcakes, a trip through the Loop to Chicago’s famous Christkindlmarket, the ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo and the lights on Michigan Avenue. Tours take place 5:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Nov 24-26, Dec 1-3 and Dec 8-23.

ELF The Musical
The Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
November 22 - January 7
Based on the hilarious 2003 Will Ferrell movie, Elf is one of those rare holiday shows that will have both kids and adults lighting up with laughter, humming tunes like “A Christmas Song” and “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” for days and rediscovering what it means to be a family. And Paramount has become the place that families head to for memorable holiday experiences. From the two-story Christmas tree in the lobby, to the thousands of sparkling lights adorning the banisters, to the carolers filling the air with song, you can’t help but get into the spirit the minute you walk through the doors.

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle
November 17 - January 1
50 acres of the Arboretum’s majestic trees will glow in mesmerizing hues of blue, green, purple, and magenta. Along the wooded one-mile path, visitors will discover a series of experiences that encourage them to see trees in a different light. Visitors can see a grove of hemlock trees’ color transform from green to technicolor hues, and catch a glimpse of trees that appear to be gently breathing, and enjoy a dazzling show of lights that appear to dance in the trees in time to music.

Wonderland Express
Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe
November 24 - January 7
Join us at the Garden for Wonderland Express, an annual holiday extravaganza featuring magnificent model trains, magical and glittering indoor snow, and meticulously crafted Chicago landmarks in miniature. Plus, see intricate ice carvings and hear beautiful music from carolers. Bring the smartphones and video cameras, as our holiday exhibition delights children and parents, friends and families.