Snow Fooling: Chicago's Coolest Events and Activities in December

It may be all about the Kringle mingle in smaller towns but in a world class city like Chicago, there's a sleigh-full of events and activities no matter what holiday you celebrate. 

There are certainly traditional snow and glow options from Zoolights and BrewLights  at Lincoln Park Zoo plus seasonal Instragram worthy opportunities like the U.S. premiere of Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden. In between dodging ice patches, ornery shoppers and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you can pop into one of the local venues offering live music (Old Town School of Folk Music) or uplifting theater like the legendary Goodman Theater  presenting family-friendly and better-for-adults seasonal shows.  

Check any winter listicle and you'll be scolded about surrendering to the sofa. For easy cold weather exercise, choose among the burgeoning number of public ice rinks or join a group tour peppered with corny jokes and stops at seasonal sites. Tours offered through Chicago Detours, especially the Chicago Holiday Tour of Drinks, Daleys and Dead Guys, are winners. Many local bars transform into winsome holiday environments or bah-humbug joints - Reindeer's takes over the basement formally home to Chit Chat Lounge and is perfect for any Scrooge needing to get away from the relentless cheer. 

Say "ta-ta" to 2019 laughing all the way. 


Celebrating its 25th season, ZooLights (Nov. 29, 2019 - Jan. 5, 2020, select dates) transforms Lincoln Park Zoo into a luminous winter wonderland with 2.5 million lights. Count on kids' activities; holiday snacks; a 65-foot Ferris Wheel; live ice-sculpture carving; and strolling carolers. The taste for cold beer doesn't leave with warm weather so if your December will be cheerier with 12 beers a brewin,' get to the annual BrewLights, a one-night-only beer sampling. The sixth annual BrewLights, presented by by Louis Glunz Beer, Inc.,highlights craft and seasonal beers on tap during ZooLights., Proceeds from BrewLights help keep Lincoln Park Zoo free and open to the public year-round. BrewLights takes place Thursday, Dec. 12 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. ZooLights is free and Brewlights tickets range from $20-40.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: You can enjoy the dazzle of ZooLights with family and friends or sample craft beer at BrewLights making memories with adult friends and family.

Jacky's expert tip: In addition to easy transportation via CTA, taxi and ride services, Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company offers festive transportation to ZooLights and BrewLights.

Read more about ZooLights and BrewLights →

Goodman Theatre offers two seasonal choices in December Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol, now in its 42nd year, and the return of David Sedaris' contemporary, irreverent The Santaland Diaries. A Christmas Carol appears through Dec. 29 in the Albert Theatre; tickets are $25 - $89 (subject to change). More than 1.5 million people have experienced Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol and the run includes a Spanish-translated performance (Dec. 26 at 7pm). The Santaland Diaries inhabits the stage of the Owen Theatre Nov. 29 â€" Dec. 29; tickets are $15-45 (subject to change and for "mature elves" only). The solo performance follows the story of a cash-poor struggling actor who takes a job as "Crumpet," an elf at Macy's Santaland. This show is more naughty than nice.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: No matter what you see at The Goodman, you're sure to be impressed by everything from set design to direction and talent. It's a city treasure.

Jacky's expert tip: Purchase tickets as soon as possible especially for weekend performances - available by telephone, online or at the Box Office.

Read more about Goodman Theatre →

While it has folky performers, this excellent, intimate concert hall offers shows ranging from African music to holiday entertainment. How about The Nut Tapper which recreates the holiday classic Nutcracker with rhythms of tap, Spanish flamenco and Mexican zapateado? It's the 21st edition of Songs of Good Cheer, a caroling party showcasing exceptional musicians from the School. Not a fan of holiday tunes? December also brings award-winning Funkadesi blending Indian music with reggae, funk and Afro-Caribbean grooves; songwriter, singer and Kentuckian, Joan Shelley; and the incomparable Bettye LaVette who has recorded an album of all Bob Dylan songs. Check the web site for December show dates. There's not a bad seat in the house, so don't hesitate to buy seats in the upper level. Ticket prices are extremely reasonable.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The venue was built by musicians for musicians: it's intimate and tickets are reasonably priced which is helpful especially in December.

Jacky's expert tip: There are more than a few excellent restaurants on the block, so consider grabbing dinner before or after a show for a completely wonderful evening in Chicago.

Read more about Old Town School of Folk Music →


Adjacent to Wrigley Field, Gallagher Way offers locals and visitors another reason to visit Wrigleyville when the Cubs hibernate. The open-air destination has an ice rink, holiday tree, Santa's workshop, outdoor chimes exhibit and events at Hotel Zachary. Enjoy skating lessons, exhibitions and learn to curl. It might be fun to skate with Clark the Cub and check out select Tuesday figure skating performances. Other events include wreath making, a German style Christkindlmarket and Santa's workshop. Across the street, Hotel Zachary brings Breakfast with Santa and sweet Teddy Bear Teas. The Hotel has a special Hot Toddy menu throughout December perfect for relaxing by the cozy fireplace and the second floor lobby. You can also warm up with treats at West Town Bakery, barbeque at Smoke Daddy or refined, American-inspired fare at Mordecai.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's a family-friendly outing in the throes of December with ice skating, holiday events and good food and drink surrounding the outdoor space.

Jacky's expert tip: Boutique Hotel Zachary offers a Winterland Package including overnight accommodations, ice skating rentals and passes, souvenir hats and gloves, and hot toddies for two with rates starting at $229 per night.

Read more about Winterland at Gallagher Way →

"A Holiday Tour of Drinks, Daleys and Dead Guys" is a downtown walking tour that explores classic and off-the-beaten-path sites and stories. You'll see, for example, the city's official Christmas tree but also discover hidden corners of the former Marshall Field's, and discover how Mayor Richard J. Daley saved the Christmas Parade. Check out the Muddy Waters mural, the Chicago Theatre and its famous marquee and Christkindlmarket. Guides provide an overview on the development of Christmas consumerism and hear the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer's birth in Chicago. You can light your own nose with a hot Tom and Jerry cocktail at historic Miller's Pub and gaze at the holiday tree at Macy's while sipping a beer from the local Revolution Brewing or a glass of wine. The tour runs all Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 15 - Dec. 30, as well as some dates on Sundays through Thursday.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's a cheery alternative to the standard Chicago holiday activities and is perfect for visitors, locals and locals entertaining out-of-town guests.

Jacky's expert tip: The tour ends across from Christkindlmarket (where the tour guide shares the secret of what's really in the gluhwein) so plan to shop afterwards.

Read more about Holiday Tour of Drinks, Daleys and Dead Guys →

You think the holidays get under your skin? They've apparently worked Santa's last nerve, too, and he's booking to Chicago and his favorite local watering hole, Reindeer's. Reindeer's takes over the basement formally home to Chit Chat Lounge and presents a brand new menu of themed holiday libations and snacks, holiday dive inspired décor, seasonal entertainment and a few surprises. Think the grimier side of the North Pole with an elevated food and beverage program. Sip hot holiday drinks like buttered rum and mulled wine or frozen egg nog. Parties of four or more can call up the Champagne Punch Cart. Feast on Santa's Bar Snack Faves like the "Next Day" Pub Pizza (smoked turkey everything biscuit stuffing, dried cranberry. mozzarella, gravy aioli, micro greens); Santa's First Chicago Style Hot Dog; and warm chocolate chip cookies, among others. Open Tuesday - Sundays 5pm until 2am and Saturdays until 3am from Nov. 29-Dec. 31.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Christmas iconoclasts and Scrooges need a place to get away from the relentless cheer.

Jacky's expert tip: Santa may be cranky, but he wants you safe so take the subway: Reindeer's is just a block from the Grand Ave. stop off the Blue Line.

Read more about Reindeer's at The Chit Chat Lounge →

Enter a Winter wndr-land this December at the wndr Museum, a space of world-class art and and installations by emerging artists. The West Loop museum hosts a number of events to this holiday and winter season. Make your own holiday cards on Dec. 15 and wndr After Dark: Winter Wonderland ensues Friday, Dec. 20 and Saturday, Dec. 21 as the lights dim and music gets turned up (hot chocolate provided). Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21-22, stop in for the museum's first Maker's Market with plenty of unusual gifts to purchase for family, friends or yourself. On the last Sunday of each month, like Sunday, Dec 29, wndr hosts Sunday Morning Cartoons from 10am - 12pm - classic cartoons projected plus all-you-can-eat cereal from the cereal bar. In addition to holiday programming, permanent exhibits like the multi-sensory Infinity Mirror Room by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, relieve the winter doldrums.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's an Insta world at the wndr Museum which affords the opportunity to be creative and play - a must for a long Chicago winter.

Jacky's expert tip: You have to make an online reservation and plan to arrive no later than 30 minutes after your reservation time.

Read more about wndr Museum →

Think you have an exceptional Christmas tree? The Morton Arboretum is the champion of trees and Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum revs it up with an interactive spectacle of color, light and sound from Nov. 23, 2019 to Jan. 5, 2020. Fifty acres of the Arboretum's majestic trees are jazzed up with lights and music as visitors stroll a winding path. Family favorite features such as Treemagination and Symphony Woods return and several new experiences include Tree Fascination, a digital projection of vivid color and pattern on a grove of Eastern White and Scots Pine trees. Hug a tree and watch it respond with pulsating light; watch lights glow and move to the sound of your singing at Tree Harmony. Concessions and fire pits along the trail have snacks and beverages or enjoy a full dinner menu at the Ginkgo Restaurant and Ginkgo Café.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Show your love of trees at this annual event starring 50 acres of the Arboretum's trees brought to life with LED lights, interactive elements and sound.

Jacky's expert tip: Every Tuesday between Thanksgiving and Christmas kids have an opportunity to visit with Santa.

Read more about Morton Arboretum →

A winter night comes alive with color and glee along a mile-long path at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Lightscape is an after-dark, illuminated trail created just for the Garden. Expect trees to unite in a choir with cheery songs as well as a spectacular waterfall of light. Stroll down a lane of luminous linden trees and step inside the Cathedral of Light, a cathedral-like arch of 100,000 lights that extends along a 110-foot tunnel. There are fire-filled sculptures fragrant with frankincense and a Feast of Light walk-through experience with suspended strands of light. Buy festive food and beverages, too! Running from Nov. 22, 2019 - Jan. 5, 2020, Lightscape ticket prices are dependent on the day you choose to visit. Remember that parking at the Garden costs $20 per car, however, if you purchase Lightscape parking in advance you'l save 50 percent ($10 in advance, $20 upon arrival at event).

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Direct from London, Lightscape is making its U.S. debut at the Chicago Botanic Garden adding another delightful way to get outside in winter.

Jacky's expert tip: Tickets purchased the day of the event cost an additional $2 per ticket

Read more about Chicago Botanic Garden →

Every boy and girl should see at least one ballet and the one that keeps the squirming to a minimum is The Joffrey Ballet's wonderful rendition of The Nutcracker. This year's event is the critically-acclaimed reimagined classic of The Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, winner of the 2015 Tony Award® for Best Choreography. The new production pays homage to Chicago and opens on Christmas Eve, 1893, as workers from around the world construct the Chicago Columbian World's Exposition. The production features the full Joffrey company, local children's choruses and 102 young dancers from Chicago and the surrounding areas. The Chicago Philharmonic provides live musical accompaniment of the beloved Tchaikovsky score. There are 29 performances, Nov. 30-Dec. 29, 2019. This season's production marks the last time The Nutcracker will take place at the Auditorium Theatre since its world premiere in 2016. The Company moves to the Lyric Opera House next season.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's a fleeting opportunity to dress up and enjoy the ideal shot of holiday culture and artistry at Joffrey's colorful rendition of The Nutcracker.

Jacky's expert tip: Official partner, JW Marriott Chicago, offers a Nutcracker Afternoon High Tea, a festive pre or post-theater experience. Call (312) 660-8200 to book it.

Read more about Joffrey Ballet of Chicago →


Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky