By Susan Fong
After a year like 2020, most of us are looking for some holiday entertainment to take our minds off of our troubles. Although fewer entertainment options are available due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Chicago area still provides attractions and activities to enjoy.
At press time, these listings were accurate, but changes are happening daily due to the pandemic. Check websites or call for latest information.
The Chicago Transit Authority holiday train featuring Santa, reindeer, and decorations has returned, but due to the coronavirus pandemic it is not taking riders this year. Santa will wave to people at CTA stations from the train. Go to https://www.transitchicago.com/holidayfleet/ for information.
This year’s City of Chicago 108th Christmas Tree in Millennium Park is a 45-foot blue spruce donated by the Townsend family of Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood. Visit Millennium Park to see the tree shining brightly near the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street from now through Thursday, Jan. 7. The park is open daily, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., for groups of ten persons or fewer who practice physical distancing and wear face coverings. For information about where to enter and exit the park and other details, visit MillenniumPark.org.
This year Christkindlmarket is celebrating its first online marketplace entitled Home for the Holidays. The website offers the market, family friendly events, and fun interactive activities. Check out the activities online, but be sure to register immediately, as space is limited. Visitors can explore more than 200 products from 45 international vendors for a unique holiday shopping experience. Children and the young at heart can download games from Kinder Club activities. Make this year’s virtual Christkindlmarket a family friendly experience at www.christkindlmarket.com.
Glessner House Museum, 1800 S. Prairie Ave., www.glessnerhouse.org, will be closed for all tours and in-person programs through spring 2021. The museum’s website offers links to a virtual tour of Glessner House and to a Channel 5 historical video about the Glessners’ cook, Mattie Williamson. Also, check the website for reopening plans.
Harris Theater at Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph St., will bring back the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for its tenth season in residence at the Harris. Audiences will access virtual concerts from CMS’s Front Row Series to enjoy performances from the comfort and safety of their homes. From Thursday through Tuesday, Dec. 17 through 22, the theatre will present a free virtual performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. For a streaming guide, go to harristheaterchicago.org.
Macy’s holiday traditions continue with the 113th annual Great Tree, the 53rd annual Animated Holiday Windows, and 42 signature holiday trumpets that herald the holiday season above the windows along State Street through Jan. 3, 2021.
Thank You, Gracias, Merci, are multilingual expressions of gratitude and the theme of Macy’s window displays as recognition of first responders, essential workers, marchers for equality, and all Chicagoans during a tumultuous year.
The Walnut Room restaurant plans to serve patrons on a reservation-only, socially-distanced basis. The Great Tree is located in and accessible only to customers dining in the Walnut Room, if allowed. Macy’s will provide a photo experience with the Great Tree, including one complimentary photo for each party of Walnut Room customers.
The Great Tree hangs from the ceiling versus sitting on a base. A display of vintage ornaments and photos of past Great Trees is open for viewing on the 7th floor.
Macy’s has reimagined Santaland and created a fun and festive online holiday experience. Get ready for a personalized, interactive journey through the North Pole to Santa and take a selfie with him. Visitors both online and at the store also can write a letter to Santa and help Make-A-Wish. For each letter received, Macy’s will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. Visit Macy’s Santaland at Home on demand through Thursday, Dec. 24, at www.macys.com/social/santa-land/.
Chicago a cappella will offer an online holiday party with members Cari Plachy, Emily Price, Ace Gangoso, and Joe Labozetta as they share videos of some of their favorite holiday performances and invite you to sing along. Tickets are $8. Chicago a cappella also has created a virtual subscription for the 2020-21 season to keep you connected with new musical content and programs; sign up for the new full-year all-access subscription for $100 and get the group’s holiday concert included. For reservations and subscriptions, go to www.chicagoacappella.org.
The Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., has canceled all events, programs, and tours until further notice. Instead, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has piloted a virtual tour of “the people’s palace” and new outdoor public art tours of Millennium Park. Enjoy the virtual tours on demand to experience the Cultural Center’s stunning architecture and history since its construction in 1897. To start your video tours, go to https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/ccc0.html.
DCASE on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 12 and 13, invites Chicagoans to join with the San Francisco Freedom Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band’s The Nutcracker Express, a dance-along Nutcracker. Disappointed Clara and Fritz can’t travel to visit their favorite uncle, but they dream up their own adventures on board the Nutcracker Express, filled with exotic destinations and surprise guests. Part comedy musical, part dance-it-yourself ballet, and part symphonic concert, The Nutcracker Express features all of the holiday fun and tradition you’ve come to expect from a dance-along Nutcracker, but this year from the comfort of your home. Log on to SFLGFB.org.
The Chicago Cultural Center is continuing the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts online this season, held every Wednesday from 12:15 to 1 p.m. and presenting solo and ensemble performances of classical music by emerging musicians. In carrying on in the face of the pandemic, the Chicago-based virtual concerts pay homage to the spirit of the original concerts, which helped keep up morale in London during World War II: when London had to close all movie theatres, playhouses, concert halls, and museums for the war’s duration, Myra Hess persuaded the government to open the National Gallery to hold music recitals every weekday. The concerts lasted five and a half years and 1,698 performances and entertained nearly 900,000 people. Here in Chicago, upcoming online concert dates are Dec. 9, with Joshua Brown, violin, and Milana Pavchinskaya, piano; and Dec. 16, Avalon String Quartet. For more information about the virtual concerts, check the International Music Foundation website at http://imfchicago.org/calendar/dame-myra-hess-memorial-concerts-calendar.
The Lakeside Singers will present their 2020 holiday show, Let the Merry Bells Keep Ringing, debuting on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m., and running through Thursday, Dec. 31. Buy tickets online to receive a link with a user name and password you use to access the video; view and re-view the concert as many times as you wish through the end of the year. Tickets are $25 and available at www.lakesidesingers.com.
The Hyde Park Youth Symphony, serving youngsters ages seven through 18 on Chicago’s South Side for more than 60 years, invites you to attend its Virtual Gala fundraiser on Wednesday, Dec. 9, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., featuring guest of honor and acclaimed violinist Rachel Barton Pine. All proceeds support high quality music education for South Side children. Gala tickets are free, with donations taken online during the event. To register for the gala, place a bid in the silent auction, or make a donation, visit: www.thehpys.org. For more information contact Lindsay Wright, executive director, at (773) 236-1347 or email@example.com.
Athenaeum Theatre Productions is pleased to share two versions of Ballet Chicago’s The Nutcracker Returns. The first features a fully intact historic archival performance streamed through Zoom. The second will include dances from Ballet Chicago’s current roster with 12 restaged and socially distanced dances, inserted into historic footage to create a Ballet Chicago 2020 Nutcracker. For performance schedules and tickets, call (773) 935-6875 or go to https://athenaeumtheatre.org or reserve tickets at https://ovationtix.com.
Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker is part of an Art on the Mart video projection, with images from the Joffrey’s Nutcracker projected onto the Merchandise Mart façade at 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza. Watch Art on the Mart on the Riverwalk or from Wacker Drive between Wells and Franklin Streets nightly at 7 and 7:30 p.m. through Wednesday, Dec. 30. Art on the Mart is the largest permanent digital art projection in the world. The Nutcracker presentation is set to music of Tchaikovsky, and nightly projections last 30 minutes. The program includes iconic paintings such as Monet’s haystacks and poppy fields from the Art Institute of Chicago as well as works from artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities through the Arts of Life’s City Circle Heart. See artonthemart.com/fall-2020.
Joffrey Ballet will bring its annual Enchanted Evening event to a virtual format, complete with dancing, music, and stories. Tickets are available for either of the following dates: for ages four through six Friday, Dec. 4, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and for ages seven through nine Friday, Dec. 11, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Through Thursday, Dec. 31, visitors to Joffrey’s website can stream the Emmy-winning PBS documentary Making a New American Nutcracker on the Joffrey’s website. The documentary, narrated by actress Neve Campbell, reveals the inner workings of the Joffrey creative team—from rewriting the story to the making of elaborate puppets to the choreographic process. See Joffrey.org.
Join the festivities at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., online this season. See highlights of museum exhibitions and special events or explore the permanent collection online, featuring thousands of artworks. Begin your cultural holiday at www.artic.edu or call (312) 443-3600.
The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie St., has created a virtual program to enjoy from the comfort and safety of your home. Find virtual tours at http://driehausmuseum.org/programs/virtual. Follow the museum’s social media channels for highlights on current exhibitions, the museum’s collections, and any new developments.
The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. While the Field Museum remains closed, stay in touch with its online learning as well as blogs and information videos. Explore the natural world and dig into the stories behind the science at www.fieldmuseum.org. Call (312) 922-9410 for more information.
The Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr. Explore rich holiday traditions from around the world with the museum’s virtual programs, Around the World and Holidays of Light. The museum’s beloved annual celebration features a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of 40 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent holiday traditions from cultures around the globe. Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light are open through Sunday, January 3. Find this and other virtual programming at www.msichicago.org.
Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., although closed continues its online programs called Learn Online with Shedd. The site offers virtual animal encounters, activities, and videos. See www.sheddaquarium.org.
OUTDOOR FAMILY FUN
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., will again feature ZooLights. This year’s festival will follow City and State guidelines to ensure a safe experience that allows social distancing. Check with the zoo regarding possible scheduling changes. All guests, including children and infants, must have a ticket to enter ZooLights, and groups must consist of ten or fewer people. Tickets cost $5 per guest to support Lincoln Park Zoo’s dedication to wildlife and conservation. Santa will join visitors for socially distanced photos from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. nightly until he heads back to the North Pole on Thursday, Dec. 23. Enjoy 3D displays; ticketed experiences including a one-of-a-kind light maze, holiday pop-up, and enchanted forest; and hundreds of larger-than-life displays. Buildings will be closed, but animals may be visible in their outdoor habitats. For information, call (312) 742-2000 or visit www.lpzoo.org.
The Morton Arboretum at 4100 IL-53, Lisle, IL, will feature its eighth annual Illumination, Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum, through Sunday, Jan. 3, as a driving experience. Guests will drive an approximately two-mile route to view 11 light displays, including six new features and five returning favorites. Specially curated music will be available on a dedicated radio station. The new exhibition will take guests on a journey past a variety of tree collections that begins with passage through the new Gateway to Illumination, a brilliant tunnel of light. Advance ticket reservations are required. For schedules and ticket prices, go to www.mortonarb.org.
The Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park remains open, with reservations required to ice skate, regardless of whether you bring your own or rent skates. Spots are limited to allow skaters to skate safely and maintain social distancing. Masks required while skating and in the park at all times. The skating ribbon creates a multi-sensory activity integrated into the landscape. Log on to www.millenniumpark.org and http://maggiedaleypark.com.
THEATER AND STAGE PERFORMANCES: STREAMING
American Blues Theater (ABT), Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., will stream It’s A Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago, the second longest running holiday play in Chicago. Now celebrating its 19th year, the show presents the ABT cast recreating a 1940s radio broadcast in Bedford Falls with an original score, sound effects, and holiday carols. Performances run through Saturday, Jan. 2. Runtime is 90 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets range from $25 to $55. Call the box office at (773) 654-3103 or go to www.americanbluestheater.com.
Chicago Children’s Theatre (CCT), 170 S. Racine Ave. created the Chicago Virtual Theatre and Learning CCTv YouTube channel to stay connected to the community during the pandemic. This virtual theatre and learning platform is full of professionally produced virtual theatre, arts activities from teaching artists, and original material created by students taking part in CCT classes and camps. This season includes Frederick, Doll Face Has a Party, and My Magic Breath on CCT’s YouTube channel. Go to https://chicagochildrenstheatre.org/cctv/ to be directed to the CCTv channel.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave. From Saturday, Dec. 19, through Friday, Jan. 1, audiences of all ages can enjoy unlimited free access to Shakespeare Theater’s Peter Pan. The 80 minute performance is a remastered film performance recorded in front of a live audience. The stream goes online starting at midnight on Saturday, Dec. 19, and remains up through 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 1.
The theatre will run a virtual pop-up market through Sunday, Dec. 6, selling wares from 25 Chicago artisans affiliated with the theatre’s Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks community.
Shakes@Home is Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s digital platform updated regularly with engaging, original content from artists, educators, and staff. Programs include Spotlight on Shakespeare; Tune In, Stay Stronger Together; Create and Learn; and the Art of Craft.
Chicago Tap Theatre, 5965 N. Clark St., will stream Tidings of Tap! Friday through Sunday, Dec. 18 through 20. For tickets, log on to https://chicagotaptheatre.kindful.com/e/tidings-of-tap-live-stream or call (773) 655-1175.
Goodman Theater, 170 N. Dearborn St. Through Thursday, Dec. 31, experience A Christmas Carol in a free audio streaming version through Thursday, Dec. 31. Tune in on Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24, at 3 p.m. and Christmas Day, Friday, Dec. 25, at 11 a.m. to listen to Goodman’s audio
stream airing on WBEZ 91.5 FM and Vocalo 91.1 FM. Go to www.goodmantheatre.org for exact streaming details.
Lookingglass Theater, 821 N. Michigan Ave., is streaming The Steadfast Tin Soldier, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story about a little tin soldier who never gives up, through Sunday, Dec. 27. Tickets are $25. For more information or tickets, go to www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
Second City, 1660 N. Wells St., is offering three virtual shows (the Plan, Happy Hour, and Really Awesome Improv Show) on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. through Thursday, Dec. 31. Log on to www.tixr.com/groups/secondcity.
The Magic Parlor, formerly at the Palmer House, features Chicago magician and mind reader Dennis Watkins. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Watkins has created a new virtual show, The Magic Parlor at Home. The third-generation magician and mentalist captivates the audience with classic sleight of hand, mind reading, and wonder-filled wisdom. Tickets now available online. For more information or to make reservations, www.themagicparlourchicago.com.