We’re saying goodbye to a November to remember — unseasonably warm weather, our first snow fall and a month packed full of family fun — and saying a happy hello to an equally fabulous December. This month, take in the final presentation of Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker, hit up Christkindlmarket or take to the skies for an unforgettable lights tour. Check out our Editor’s picks for wintry family fun in the Windy City.
photo: Museum of Science’s Small World of Christmas Magic
(1) It’s a Small World of Christmas Magic
It’s an international winter wonderland at Christmas Around the World. Your family will be enchanted by the trees and displays that are decorated to represent the rich multicultural heritage of Chicago. Of course, the crown jewel will be the The Grand Tree with 30,000 twinkling lights, sparkly ornaments and all of the trimmings. The kiddos can get into the holiday spirit while they sing along to holiday classics and play in flurries of snow that fall every half hour.
When: Through Jan. 3
Hours: 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Museum of Science, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., Hyde Park
Cost: free with admission (non-residents: $18/adults, $11/children 3-11; residents: $15/adults, $10/children 3-11)
(2) Up, Up, Up! Get a Birds-Eye View of Holiday Lights
Buckle up and take your holiday lights enjoyment to all new heights with a birds-eye view from 1,200 feet above the crowd. New this year, Chicago Helicopter Experience, a helicopter touring company with a heliport in Bridgeport, is offering guests sky-high views of Chicago’s magnificent light displays. The pilot gives a guided-tour of the lights at Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, Millennium Park and the Chicago skyline, which is breathtaking no matter the time of year but exponentially so during the holidays.
Bundle up for this outdoor market that brings the cherished German and European tradition of the Christkindesmarkt in Germany to Chicago and adds a heap of local charm. Head to Daley Plaza, where you’ll see the market’s signature wooden cabins topped with festive red-and-white-striped canopies, each packed with handmade gifts, food and drinks from around the world and many are run by native German speakers. Shop, eat, enjoy free entertainment, repeat – and be sure to say “guten tag” to Santa Claus.
When: Through Dec. 24
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Where: On Daley Plaza, Between Dearborn, Washington & Clark St., The Loop
(4) Mrs. Claus! A Holiday Musical
Chicago Kids Company – Theater for Children (CKC) presents Mrs. Claus! A Holiday Musical. This holiday classic and audience favorite returns for its 17th consecutive year. CKC’s biggest and most colorful show will put children and adults alike in the holiday spirit. Join Mrs. Claus as she teams up with the new Elf Class of 2015 to find Santa’s missing list in time for Christmas. Can Mrs. Claus and the elves save the holidays?
When: Dec. 3-Dec. 23
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Where: Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., Beverly
(5) Let the Joffrey Ballet Take Your Breath Away
The question isn’t if you are going to see the 28th annual, and final, presentation of Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker. It’s when. This epic smash replaces the traditional European setting with a 19th-century American home. It features the acclaimed Joffrey Ballet dancers, elegant costumes, an extravagant set by Oliver Smith, local children’s choruses, 118 young dancers and a giant Mother Ginger puppet by Kermit Love. They all weave together in a story of Clara and the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer, who embark on an incredible adventure.
When: Dec. 4-Dec. 27
Hours: Varies (see website for times)
Where: The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., The Loop
(6) A Dazzling Holiday Trolley Ride
The coolest way to watch the winking and blinking of holiday lights is by trolley. Hook up with Chicago Trolley Co. for its annual Holiday Lights Tour. The lightly narrated two-and-a-half-hour adventure shows the best of Chicago’s holiday lights and stops at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoolights show. Sights on the tour include The Magnificent Mile, Macy’s holiday windows, Christkindlmarket, the John Hancock and Daley Plaza trees, Millennium Park and more.
When: Through Jan. 3
Where: Tour departs from the John Hancock Observatory, 875 N. Michigan Ave., Magnificent Mile
Cost: Adults, $29; children, $19
(7) Watch Zoolights Illuminate the Night Sky
One of the nation’s only free-admission zoos flips the holiday switch with ZooLights. With the light displays throughout the grounds your fam can stroll through for holiday crafts, take photos with Santa, enjoy food and drinks, watch ice carving demos, partake in carousel rides and go-’rounds on the new Lionel Train Adventure, all while admiring the explosion of multi-colored lights.
When: Dec. 4-6, Dec. 11-23, Dec. 26-Dec. 31
Hours: 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, Fullerton Pkwy. & Cannon Dr., Lincoln Park
(8) A Winter Thrill Fill at Navy Pier
Get your thrill fill at Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest, which has rides for all ages. New attractions this year include the Polar Extreme, a double-sided inflatable slide and obstacle course, interactive Arctic Peaks Climbing Walls and an expanded, more challenging Winter Rules mini golf course sure to offer an additional layer of friendly competition and frozen holiday fun.
When: Dec. 5-Jan. 10
Where: 600 E. Grand Ave. Navy Pier
Cost: General admission is $9 online & $10 walk-up. Activity ticket $23 online & $25 walk-up
(9) Enjoy Lights, Ice Carving and Magic at Holiday Magic
Celebrate Holiday Magic at Chicagoland’s largest lights festival featuring one million twinkling LED lights illuminating Brookfield Zoo’s walkways. This year’s festival will feature nearly 550 trees decorated by local community organizations and corporations, singing to the animals, professional ice carving demonstrations, Zoo Chats, photo opps with animals, live entertainment, a model railroad display, a 41-foot talking tree and more! New this year: Polar Lights, an interactive light extravaganza with accompanying music which allows zoogoers to activate and control the color and shape of 30 moving lights.
When: Sat. & Sun. in December & Dec. 28-31
Hours: Zoo is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; festivities start at 4 p.m.
Where: Brookfield Zoo, 8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield
Cost: free with admission ($16.95/adults; $11.95/children 3-11 & seniors 65 & over; free for ages 2 & under)
(10) Jingle Bell Jamboree
Enter a world of holiday magic at the Jingle Bell Jamboree! Bring the whole family and be charmed with live holiday music by the Chicago Sinfonetta, enjoy the sugar and spice of decorating cookies in Mrs. Claus’s Bakery and prepare to summon Santa’s reindeer with a magical treat and tradition. Don’t forget to leave a letter for Santa Claus, too! Registrations recommended.
When: Dec. 19
Hours: 3 p.m.-9 p.m.
Where: Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St., Naperville
Cost: $7/adult (ages 13+), $5/youth, Settlement-6 members and above
Big plans for December? Tell us all about it in the Comments below!