Chicago at Christmas – what is there to see and do


Chicago Skydeck

I’m in my own personal snow globe. I’m 1,353ft up at Skydeck, atop Willis Tower, what for a quarter of a century was the world’s tallest building. I’m also 4ft out from the side in a glass box, The Ledge, in the middle of a cloud and it’s snowing a storm.

Winter here in Chicago is a wonderland. When the cloud parts I can see white dappled skyscraper roofs and a wealth of twinkling Christmas lights, the chilly waters of lake Michigan stretching into the distance

The Christkindlmarket

And they do Christmas properly here. The Christkindlmarket on Daley Plaza is a frenzy of gluwein drinking, pretzel eating and ornament buying, a world of wooden huts that would do Europe proud. In fact it’s run in conjunction with Nuremburg whose market dates back to the 16th century; this one has been ho-ho-hoing for nearly a quarter of a century and you’ll even find German stallholders.

The previous evening Christmas was up and running with the official lighting, amid a crowd of thousands, of the city Christmas tree in Millennium Park, a 60-footer, donated by one of dozens of families who contest the right to have their own tree chopped down to cheer the city. The ceremony was hosted by Miguel Cervantes, star of the city’s production of the musical Hamilton, and involved Cozi Zuehlsdorff, star of Disney’s new Freaky Friday TV movie, alongside mayor Rahm Emanuel, once a bigwig in Bill Clinton’s presidential team. Nearby there’s jollity as crowds in mittens and mufflers tackle the Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon, an oval track running through the trees.

Winter in Chicago may be cold (and filled with snow and slush), but Christmas in Chicago makes it worth the extra layers you might have to wear. The period between Thanksgiving and the New Year’s Eve is filled with heartfelt traditions, from tree-lighting ceremonies to wreathings and department store window displays. It’s the only time of year when you can sip a mug of steaming spiced wine beneath the Picasso statue, visit the Walnut Room tree at Macy’s and sing carols in front of the Bean. There’s something undeniably special about Christmas in Chicago, so we’ve assembled a variety of ways to celebrate the season with the appropriate amount of cheer.