10 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Chicago (and Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and New Year’s)

The holiday season in Chicago is going to be, uh, different this year. But what it lacks in normalcy it can easily make up for with full-on festivity. So, dust off that ugly sweater (it’s beautiful to us!) and consider these generally pandemic-friendly merry-making options as we put a wrap on 2020. Here, 10 unexpected ways to celebrate Christmas in Chicago—and Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and New Year’s while you’re at it.

Know before you go: COVID-19 restrictions and regulations are constantly evolving. Be sure to check on local-level and state-wide health recommendations to ensure your holiday outing is in compliance with public health guidelines, and look at your destination’s website to guard against any sudden or unexpected closures.

The 12 Best Day Trips from Chicago

1. Enjoy A Drive-in Holiday Film At Chitown Movies

These Pilsen soccer fields have pivoted to offer drive-in movies during the pandemic. And what says Christmas more than watching Elf, Scrooged, or Love, Actually under the stars? Crank the Kringle 3000 to full speed by having a Christmas box of tacos delivered right to your car door, so you can enjoy mulled wine, a trio of tacos, and sweet, frozen mango from the comfort of the driver’s seat.

2343 S. Throop St.; 312-226-1988 or

christmas in chicago christmas lights
Anadolu Agency/Contributor/Getty Images

2. Drive By 12 Straight Miles Of Christmas Lights (!)

My Block, My Hood, My City isn’t skipping its Be a Part of the Light campaign this year, which aims to deck out 12 straight miles and 500 homes along Dr. Martin Luther King Drive with lights, festive garlands, and more. Hop in the car and drive up and down this twinkling wonderland and be sure to pause at 75th Street to grab a sweet treat to-go from James Beard Award-nominated Brown Sugar Bakery. (If this light display sounds especially delightful to you, consider donating or signing up to help install the decorations here.)

3. Explore Christkindlmarket

Instead of taking over Daley Plaza with red-and-white-striped booths this winter, Christkindlmarket is going virtual. Visit its website through December 31 to shop the marketplace online (you know you need more Belgian hot chocolate mix), and to catch events like cooking demos, German conversation groups, and crafting tutorials. Tuning in with a tot? Don’t miss the Kinder Club, which is packed with fun activities for kids.

christmas in chicago open books
Open Books

4. Clean House & Donate

If you’re suddenly inspired to volunteer, keep in mind that most nonprofits get inundated around the holidays and need help at other points in the year. Instead, make room for your new loot by working your best Marie Kondo magic and then donating gently used items to Chicago organizations: Open Books and Chicago Books to Women in Prison for books; Humble Design and The Brown Elephant for homewares; and Dress for Success and Goodwill for clothes.

5. Check Out The Thorne Miniature Rooms At The Art Institute Of Chicago

Tucked away on the bottom floor of the Art Institute, the Thorne miniature rooms replicate homes throughout history and throughout the world, all at 1:12 scale. They’re captivating any day of the year (Wes Anderson told NPR’s Fresh Air that he finds them “mesmerizing”), but the museum ups the holiday ante during the holidays when select rooms are decked with teeny-tiny pine swags, menorahs, wrapped presents, and more. In order to maintain social distancing guidelines, the Art Institute currently requires advance ticket purchases for non-members. Learn more about your visiting options here.

Note: As this story went to press, the Art Institute announced that it is shutting down to comply with new state guidelines. Cross your fingers that Illinois will make strides for the museum to open again soon—ideally while the Thorne Rooms are still Christmassy. In the meantime, you can visit the museum virtually. (Worst-case scenario: a goal for the 2021 holidays!)

111 South Michigan Avenue; 312-443-3600 or

6. Go Ice Skating At Maggie Daley Park

Just a few triple lutzes stand between the Art Institute and Maggie Daley Park, so make the most of your visit with a whirl around the park’s ice skating ribbon. Admire the city skyline as you glide along the ice, which will be pleasantly un-crowded thanks to limited, pandemic-friendly capacity. (Just don’t forget to reserve your spot in advance.)

337 E Randolph; 312-552-3000 or

christmas in chicago millennium park tree

7. Applaud The Millennium Park Tree

Still downtown? Great! There’s one more seasonal sight to behold, and that’s the tree at Millennium Park, near the intersection of Michigan and Washington. While literally applauding the tree isn’t required, you may be tempted: This year’s stunner is a 45-foot spruce from a yard in Morgan Park, festooned with multicolored lights and topped with a dazzling star. If attending the tree-lighting ceremony has been a part of your routine in Christmases past, take heart: you can tune in to a virtual ceremony on November 19 at 7:30 p.m., which will include performances by the Chicago Children’s Choir and other groups.

8. Visit Zoo Lights

Ah, the holidays: ideally, they’re full of colorful lights and the occasional cameo by a real, live wolf. Or a giraffe. Or a seal. And that’s all thanks to Zoo Lights, the beloved Chicago tradition that fills the Lincoln Park Zoo with millions—literally millions!—of lights, and hundreds of festive displays throughout the grounds. Get an advance ticket to secure your socially distanced entry or take your chances on getting in during one of the season’s five free-entry nights.

2400 N. Cannon; 312-742-2000 or

9. Give Gifts From Local Artists

With the cancellation of in-person craft fairs this year, Chicago artists are feeling the crunch. Help them out—and earn yourself a reputation for giving thoughtful, unique gifts—by shopping the Show of Hands fair online this year. The virtual version of the fair goes down this weekend (November 21 and 22), and includes colorful earrings by Vintage Royalty, your new favorite cocktail addition from Bitter Ex Bitters, and peppermint- or cocoa-scented candles from Edgewater Candles. (Did you miss the fair? Don’t fret; you can still shop all of the participants’ wares through their respective websites, even if you missed out on any weekend deals.)

10. Listen To Andrew Bird’s Gezelligheid Concert

In any other year, you’d hope to snag a ticket for famed former Chicagoan Andrew Bird’s annual Gezelligheid concerts before they sold out in seconds. And in any other year, you’d join fellow fans of music and of Christmas spirit downtown in the pews at 4th Presbyterian and enjoy the festive, wintry show. (“Gezelligheid” is Dutch for “cosiness.” It’s about as hygge as you can get.) But it’s 2020, so here’s this year’s plan instead: buy a ticket for the online Gezelligheid concert; let Bird’s vocals, violin, and artful whistling wash over you; and feel lucky that this year, you can skip the occasional icy-cold drafts that waft through the church.

Tickets start at $20 and are available on

amanda nyren

Writer, yogi, mom to about a dozen houseplants

A lifelong Chicago resident, Amanda started covering the local scene for PureWow in 2016. She's a freelance writer and content strategist.

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Freelance PureWow Editor