Never mind that pesky Polar Vortex they’re predicting again this winter. Holiday mayhem comes first, and you’ve got enough on your mind between the parties to host, the mother-in-law to please, and the cards to send out. Take a deep breath. You’ll make it through the season, and we can help. We’ve listed common holiday woes and suggest quick fixes for them using local resources you’ll love.


photo: Eli Christman via flickr

Conundrum #1: It’s Time to Deck Your Halls

Do you want to release your inner Griswold but lack the luxury of time and know-how? Go pro when decorating your pad this year and hire B&B Holiday Decorating — the same company that blinged out the house featured on CBS’s “Mike and Molly.” After a free estimate, B&B will line your roof with lights; make your bushes, trees and windows pretty; and take care of everything from set-up to takedown and all the maintenance in between.

RedTri_Santa Seaport Village

 photo: Eileen L via Yelp

Conundrum #2: The Line to See Santa is Crazy-Long

Do your kids want to whisper to Santa what’s on their wish list but you’re dreading the long lines? Take the insider’s track and scoot to Bass Pro Shop’s Santa’s Wonderland in Gurnee or Bolingbrook. Through December 24 you can get a free photo with Santa and, if there’s a long wait, you’ll get a Bass Pass with a designated time (first come, first serve) so that you can shop and return when Santa’s in the clear.

Or, for something truly unique to Chicago, visit Santa on the train — yep, The Metra and the CTA! From Addison to Chicago to Worth, Santa will be on the trains visiting children, handing out cookies and reading stories. For the full range of Santa’s whereabouts, visit for schedules, pricing and specific activities as well as for special Santa sightings at Brookfield Zoo, Daley Plaza, 360 CHICAGO (The John Hancock Observatory), Lincoln Park Zoo ZooLights and Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier.


photo: Elena Roussakis via flickr

Conundrum #3: The Inevitable Cookie Exchange

C is for Cookie and W is for Wow-you-have-a-ton-to-bake. Whatever holiday you celebrate, cookies are on the menu. Dozens need to be made for neighbors, school parties, family and general jollification. Try something different this year: Attend a cookie baking class — you’ll get to sip drinks, meet new friends and cross something off your get-it-done list.

Sur La Table offers Holiday Cookie Exchange classes at their Naperville, Northbrook, Skokie and Chicago locations, which will enable you to walk away with recipes and a variety of treats: gingerbread snowflakes, stained glass sugar cookies, chocolate-espresso snowcaps, lemon-thyme cookie wreaths and more. The Chopping Block, located in Lincoln Square and the Merchandise Mart, has other classes on its menu: Festive Baking, to learn how to make delectable bars, cakes, sauces and crusts; Fun n’ Fancy Holiday Cookies, which will allow you to bring treats home; and Kids’ Cooking Class: Holiday Cookies, for when you have the littles in tow and need simple recipes.

The Wooden Spoon in Andersonville is another great resource for all of your baking needs (or woes?). Should you decide to make all of those sweets at home, it sells affordable baking essentials, from food coloring to rolling pins to sifters to baking pans and trays to holiday cookie cutters.


photo: Scott Leslie via flickr

Conundrum #4: You Have to Cook For Umpteen Relatives

You’re hosting the holiday festivities this year and you want to make sure that everything is just right. Enlist the help of experts and wow everyone at your dinner table — it doesn’t necessarily have to cost you a fortune.

Kitchensurfing is a new service in Chicago that sends a professional chef to your home to cook and serve your guests (gluten-free, vegetarian and other dietary concerns will be accommodated). They do all of the cleanup, allowing you to relax and enjoy quality time with family and friends.

If comfort food is your thing, try Johnny Casserole for local, fresh delivery and carryout options. Specialty casseroles like the Tamale Lee Jones (a Mexican-inspired dish), The Beth Ann (a chicken and veggie pot pie) and The Big Grabowski (featuring kielbasa and sauerkraut) are popular pillars; and salads, breakfast items and mac ‘n’ cheese are also available. Tip: Call in your order at least a day early to make sure what you want will be made and ready because only a limited number of casseroles are prepared daily.

Pinchuk Family Session

photo: The Pinchuk Family by TK Photography

Conundrum #5: Oh Snap, You Still Have to Get Holiday Photos

You need to get your holiday cards stuffed and mailed but you forgot to do the most important thing — get that family photo! There are studios that can help in a pinch, like Maypole Studios Photography. Bethany Fritz offers holiday mini portrait sessions to capture your family’s holiday cheer. Sessions are 30-45 minutes for $100, which includes two high-resolution digital files from your sitting and complimentary online proofs.

TK Photography offers 15-minute sessions for $99 with Santa for holiday photos, which includes 5-10 images with and without Santa. Images are delivered fast — within 72 hours — so kids can meet Santa and you can get in and out with great photos for your holiday card. Another bright option is Studio on Webster, where photographers Elaine Melko and Emily Cummings will snap your clan in a 30-minute mini session and then let you pick your favorite five snaps from a gallery of 10-15 photos (prices start at $300 and upgrades are available).


photo: Chicago Trolley & Double Decker

Conundrum #6: You Want to See City Lights, Without Hustle & Hassle

You don’t have to schlep a toddler down Michigan Avenue in the winter air to see holiday lights at their finest. The Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Company offers a 2-½ hour Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour, allowing you and your brood to sit back and enjoy the ride. Hop on at the John Hancock Observatory and see the John Hancock Tree and then cruise along to marvel at The Magnificent Mile, State Street, the Daley Plaza Tree and, of course, Macy’s famous Holiday Windows. You’ll have 30 minutes to explore the Christkindlmarket and also ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. When your adventure is over, you’ll receive a free cup of cocoa and a cookie from the Hershey Store. Tours operate Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through December 21 and everyday from December 26-January 4. For tickets and more information, visit

What is your secret to holiday success? Let us know in the Comments!

— Wendy Altschuler