It’s the best time of the year for families. And, if you live in Chicago or are planning a visit during the holiday season, you’ll notice that Christmas in Chicago is kind of a big deal!
Whether you need to pay a visit to Santa, enjoy a peaceful ride or fun-filled walk through a lights display, or catch a holiday performance, We have the best Chicago Christmas events covered. And, who knows? You may find yourself a new annual tradition. Updated for the 2022 season!
Christmas in Chicago 2022
Special Light Displays in Chicago
Although the start of Christmas in Chicago officially begins with the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival on Chicago’s most famous shopping street, there are plenty of places to be dazzled by twinkling lights. This year it will take place on November 19, 2022.
This year Mickey and Minnie will be making an appearance at the kickoff! Visit Lights Festival Lane (401 North Michigan Avenue) beginning at 11am to enjoy a number of booths, family activities, and FREE photos with Santa.
Stay for the parade which begins at 5:30pm. It includes floats, giant helium balloons, exciting marching bands, celebrities, musical performances, Santa Claus, and Mickey and Minnie who will be illuminating more than 200 trees along The Magnificent Mile.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
To make it extra special, it’s best to share the moment with friends, family, and… animals! The Lincoln Park Zoo gets transformed into a winter wonderland with over 2.5 million lights, giant character displays, and lighted tunnels at ZooLights.
Santa Claus will be at the Helen Brach Primate House to hear children’s wish lists. Other fun activities include train and carousel rides, ice carvings, a musical light show.
This year’s event takes place November 19, 2022 – January 1, 2023 from 4:30-10pm. Tickets are required but they are just $5. Mondays are free!
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Drive on over to the Brookfield Zoo for the Holiday Magic event, the largest light event in the entire Chicagoland area with over two million lights!
Last year, besides ice-carving demonstrations and a light show, you can listen to the 41-foot talking tree, learn about animals during Zoo Chats, and watch trains chug through at the model railroad display. We are looking forward to see what might be new for 2022!
Holiday Magic is a ticketed event to limit crowds. It takes place on select dates November 25- December 31, 2022 from 3-9pm.
The zoo also hosts a Reindeer Run on November 19th where you can run among the holiday lights and be among the first to see this season’s display.
Festival of Lights at Cosley Zoo
If you prefer a smaller zoo, Cosley Zoo’s Festival of Lights will be sure to please. Grab a hot chocolate while perusing the zoo’s grounds lit up with over 20,000 lights. They are even offering free zoo admission during the festival (but donations are appreciated). This year’s event takes place November 25- December 30, 2022.
In addition to the light display, Coley Zoo will be offering Christmas trees, wreaths and greenery, hot chocolate, and eveb holiday gifts in the Wild Side Gift Shop.
Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum
For a lights experience unlike any other, check out Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum where trees will respond to touch and sound, with vivid, electric colors displayed throughout. There will be discounted weekday tickets
If you are looking for a date night, check out “adults only” IllumiBrew featuring samples from top local breweries and Electric Illumination, a late-night experience with trance and progressive house music synchronized to the light displays.
Illumination takes place November 19, 2022 through January 7, 2023. Advance purchase tickets are recommended because many dates sell out. Members can enjoy early bird pricing through the month of October.
Art on theMART
The free Art on theMART’s winter holiday lights show will delight and dazzle. As the largest permanent digital art projection in the world, the projected winter holiday images on theMART winter holiday images that will animate for a minute and a half.
Art on theMART’s Winter 2022 program will premiere November 19th and run through December 30th, with a new projection: Chicago Design Through the Decades. It begins with the Art Deco period of the 1920 and higlights design through the year, ending with present day.
Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
Back for 2022 is Lightscape, filled with thousands of twinkling lights on a trail through the Chicago Botanic Garden. It is sure to be a dazzling and beautiful experience. Highlights include a Winter Cathedral and a reimagined fire garden along the 1.25-mile path.
The Immersive Nutcracker
In line with the immersive art experiences like the Immersive Van Gough show that has been touring for the past couple years comes the Immersive Nutcracker. Shown at various cities across the country, the Las Vegas experience will take place at Lighthouse Artspace Chicago.
This is an immersive projection show with life-sized Nutcracker props and plenty of photo opportunities.
Your family will listen to Tchaikovsky’s nostalgic music, as they are fully immersed in 500,000 cubic feet of holiday wonder. Highlights will include classics like “The March of The Toys” and “The Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy”.
This experience runs November 19 through December 30, 2022 and tickets must be purchased in advance online.
Experience Different Holiday Cultures
At the Christkindlmarket, celebrate the holidays the way Germans do with this free outdoor market open November 18 – December 24, 2022 in Daley Plaza. Enjoy schnitzels and sip on spiced wines while trying to find perfect one-of-a-kind gifts.
Don’t forget to grab their most popular gift—a German Christmas pickle ornament! According to lore, the pickle ornament is hung last in a hidden spot on the tree. On Christmas morning, whoever finds the pickle gets to open the first present. After shopping, let the kids loose at the added Kinder Korner where kids can participate in activities, entertainment, and prizes.
There are also Christkindlmarkets in Aurora and Wrigleyville.
Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry
One of our favorite places, the Museum of Science and Industry, highlights the city’s cultural diversity during the holidays with its Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Lights exhibit which opens November 16, 2022 and runs through January 4, 2023.
What started as a single tree dedicated to the Allies of WWII, has now become one of Chicago’s most popular traditions where more than 50 trees are festively decorated by different cultures.
MSI also boasts a 45-foot Grand Tree in the Museum’s Rotunda, adorned with over 30,000 twinkling lights and ornaments. Every weekend enjoy traditional dances and songs by performers of different countries.
Unique to Chicago
There is a plethora of events that are unique only to Chicago. Stop by Millenium Park for fun holiday activities such as caroling at the famous Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean.”
Want to spend more time at the park? Don’t forget to bring your own skates and go ice skating for free at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Though skating is free, you must book online tickets before you go. No skates, no worries, you can rent them. November 18, 2022—March 5, 2023
You can also ice skate on Maggie Daley Park’s Skating Ribbon, an icy path that curves around the park. It is open November 18, 2022 through March 5, 2023 and tickets can be purchased in advance.
Macy’s on State Street
If you’re holiday shopping on State Street, it’s hard to avoid glancing at Macy’s window holiday displays all decked out in their holiday glory.
After seeing the elaborate displays, step inside for a bite (or to escape the chilly weather) at the world-famous Walnut Room, noted for being the first restaurant opened in a department store.
One of a Kind Holiday Show
The One of a Kind Holiday Show is the place to shop if you are searching for gifts created by hundreds of talented artists selling thousands of handmade products. It will take place December 1-4, 2022.
Navy Pier- Light Up the Lake
Need an escape from the cold weather? Head indoors and visit Light Up The Lake at the famous Navy Pier where you can go ice skating, ride a Ferris wheel, Kringle Carousel, Reindeer Express train, slides and obstacle courses, and view displays—all while you are indoors.
There is also a light garden comprised of sculptures sparkling with 600,000 lights.
Light Up the Lake takes place November 25, 2022 through January 7, 2023.
Skydeck Chicago is an observatory where you can see the sights of the city lit up for the holidays from 1,353 feet above ground on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower. You can also get selfies with Santa at the Ledge at Skydeck Chicago December 16 – 24, 2022 between 12 and 5pm.
In addition to the fantastic views from above, visitors can hop aboard a festively decorated full-scale ‘L’ train replica in the lower-level museum. There will also be a pass-through video displays showing off various Chicago neighborhoods.
Stop by the Art Institute for holiday traditions such as the Neapolitan crèche, choirs singing on the Grand Staircare, and rooms beautiful decorated with Christmas decorations. Check the Art Institute calendar for events over the holiday season.
Holiday Train Fun
All Aboard! While there is no shortage of Polar Express train rides around Chicago, the problem is that most of the Polar Express rides sell out early. Don’t worry! There are plenty of train rides and activities for your little (or big) train fan!
One of Chicago’s most popular events, the Holiday Train, happens aboard Chicago’s CTA elevated train, the “El.” Even in the most frigid temps, you’ll find Santa outside on his sleigh while his elves hand out candy canes to passengers inside the train car.
I happened to catch the Santa train on my normal commute home, and I couldn’t help but leave with a smile on my face.
Not only will Santa hop aboard the train, but those on Santa’s “good list” at the Happy Holiday Railway at the Illinois Railway Museum will give gifts to children and serve treats during the 40-minute train ride. There will still be opportunities to see the trains, model train displays, and Santa.
The Polar Express Train Ride will whisk families from Union Station to the North Pole while enjoying cookies and hot chocolate. Don’t forget to wear your pajamas! Unfortunately this even is canceled for 2022 due to lack of crew but hopes to return for the 2023 season.
The Enchanted Railroad at the Morton Arboretum attaches a camera to its trains so you’re able to “see” through the train’s eyes.
Interested in more holiday train fun? See Trekaroo’s list of Holiday Trains in the Chicago area that will be sure to make your little train fan happy.
Special Santa Visits
Santa Claus is coming to town! Kids and dads won’t mind getting up bright and early for breakfast if it’s at Soldier Field. Reserve your seat at their Breakfast with Santa.
Other activities include an ornament contest, an elaborate train display, and decorating cookies for you (or Santa). The also host the Santa Hustle fun run on December 3, 2022.
The Swissotel Chicago will be hosting a Santa Suite again this year. Beginning November 20, 2022, ts 2,000-square-foot Presidential Suite into Santa’s Chicago holiday home where he will be surrounded by 17 Christmas trees. Book your visit with Santa in advance!
Want more places to see Santa? Check out where Trekaroo families are finding the jolly man around Chicago this year with this list of Santa events in Chicago.
Get into the holiday spirit by watching a show! Come see the newly re-imagined rendition of the Nutcracker by The Joffrey Ballet. Besides watching the dancers perform beautifully, you’ll also hear local children’s choruses, and local dancers participate in this holiday classic. This year’s show takes place December 3-27, 2022.
Families interested in another classic will love watching the Dickens’ tale come to life with A Christmas Carol at the Goodman’s Albert Theatre. The show runs November 19 through December 31, 2022.
Drury Lane in Oak Brook makes everything extra special by including either a breakfast or dinner meal along with a performance of A Holiday Inn. This year they will host Elf the Musical and A Christmas Carol. Cirque du Soliel makes an appearance at the Chicago Theater with “Twas the Night Before…”.
Celebrate an Old-Fashioned Christmas
If you have visions of an old-fashioned Christmas, venture outside the city to Long Grove. As Illinois’ first historical district, you’ll instantly feel the charm of this small town. With Victorian building trimmed in lights and cobblestone walkways, the spirit of the season will surely be felt.
Ride on a horse-drawn carriage, find the perfect gift at one of the many quaint shops, listen to strolling holiday carolers, or even see Santa strolling through the village. Hop on the Holly Trolley to view all that this quaint town has to offer.
For more good old-fashioned fun head to the western suburb of Geneva for its Christmas Walk and House tour. Stroll by decorated holiday windows or witness chestnuts roasting on an open fire. The Ellen DeGeneres show stopped by Geneva and had nothing but good things to say about Geneva’s special holiday event.
Woodstock is also known for their Victorian-style Christmas with an annual lighting of the square, a Christmas parade, and a Christmas Tree Walk at the Woodstock Opera House. Come visit on the weekends to ride the free horse-drawn carriage rides.
Is there a Chicago Christmas event we missed? Does your business have updated information to share? Email [email protected] and tell us about it!
Find more Christmas events near you! Trekaroo has guides for dozens of cities across the country.
Featured photo by: Shutterstock