The holidays are one of the best times of the year to live in the Chicago area. From house walks to outdoor light displays, from holiday theater offerings to performances of the Nutcracker, there are so many opportunities to get out and enjoy our area. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites, but check out even more happenings at www.events12.com/chicago/december. Then grab your calendar and a hot cup of cocoa and make some plans to soak in some holiday magic this season. 

Theater

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ holiday classic about Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and three Christmas ghosts, is playing at three local venues.

Dec. 2 - 23: Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace (family version)

Dec. 2 - 27: Goodman Theatre in Chicago

Dec. 4 - 24: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights

 

Celebrate the holidays at Holidaze, a series of short plays that capture the crazy, zany, funny chaos of the holiday season at Athenaeum Theatre. December 3-20. Visit athenaeumtheatre.org.

 

Twist Your Dickens is a zany sendup of the classic “A Christmas Carol” with adult humor, parody, and improvisation at Goodman Theatre. Dec. 4-27.  

 

Unruly kids take over the church pageant with hilarious results in family-friendly The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at Provision Theater. December 5-20. Visit www.provisiontheater.org.

 

It’s a holiday tradition to hear the joyful Handel’s Messiah sung by the Apollo Chorus of Chicago at Harris Theater. Dec. 19 and 20. Visit apollochorus.org or www.harristheaterchicago.org.

 

Shopping

Christkindlmarket is an open-air European holiday market on Daley Plaza featuring traditional art, handmade gifts, German foods, choirs, and carolers. Free. Dec. 3-24.

 

Randolph Street’s Holiday Market offers affordable antique, vintage, and modern goods indoors at W Randolph & Washington on Dec. 12, 13. 

Christmas Lights

Head out to the Morton Arboretum to see colorful tree lights and interactive laser lights on a one-mile walk at Illumination, and then warm up at the fire pit. Dec. 3-Jan. 2. Closed Dec. 7, 14, 24, 25. 

 

Enjoy ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo, featuring millions of holiday lights, ice carvings, music, carousel and train rides, food, and gift shopping (plus photos with Santa some days). Open Dec. 4-6, 11-23, 26-31, Jan. 1-3. Free entry.

 

Holiday Magic is a million twinkling lights, a laser light show, a magic show, animal visits, and songs at the Brookfield Zoo. Dec. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, and 26-31. 

Holiday Train Shows

Model trains wind their way through a miniature village among Poinsettias during the Winter Flower and Train Show at Lincoln Park Conservatory. Dec. 3-Jan. 3. Free.

 

Wonderland Express features trains running through an indoor garden past miniature buildings at Chicago Botanic Garden. See events schedule. Dec. 3- Jan. 3. Closed Dec. 25.

 

LEGO Train Show features a huge diorama of trains that run past skyscrapers, brick mania, and kids’ crafts, plus a ticketed party the first evening at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Dec. 12-13. Free except parking.

Nutcracker Ballet

Joffrey Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker features brilliant costumes, fanciful scenery, entrancing storytelling, and Tchaikovsky’s famous score, played by the Chicago Philharmonic at Auditorium Theatre. Dec. 4-27.

 

Chicago Festival Ballet and the New Philharmonic Orchestra perform a beautiful and lively Nutcracker at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Dec. 19-20.

Family Fun

Decorated trees represent many cultures in addition to weekend ethnic song-and-dance performances during Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light at the Museum of Science & Industry. Dec. 3-Jan. 3. Closed Dec. 25.

 

Festival Hall at Navy Pier becomes an indoor Winter WonderFest for the holidays, with music, carnival rides, and entertainment. Expect crowds. Free entry. Dec. 5-Jan. 10. Closed Dec. 25.

 

Collect a cookie, treat, or hot drink from 45 shops and see entertainment at Winterfest in Oak Park. Dec. 5, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

 

Take a one-hour train ride through downtown Chicago as you drink cocoa on the Polar Express, which travels roundtrip from Union Station at Jackson Boulevard. Dec. 19-Jan. 3. Visit www.chicagothepolarexpressride.com.

Holiday Libations

Hit the pavement and enjoy food and drink specials at Holiday Bar Crawls throughout Chicago area in December.

Holiday Cheers! is a seasonal tasting of local spirits, wines, and winter brews surrounded by Wonderland Express train exhibits at Chicago Botanic Garden. Dec. 9, 6-8 p.m.

A ticket to Winter Solstice Craft Beer Fest gets you 10 beer samples and 2 food samples, with 100 beers for sale, plus live music at Blarney Stone Pub, Oak Forest. Dec. 12, 2-6 p.m.

 

The Beer Fest Beat Down includes 25 beer-tasting tickets, food vendors, and Lucha Libre wrestling at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates. Dec. 12 at 2 p.m.