This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune brand publishing special section Holidays in Chicago.
Santa Claus, parades, ice skating, Christkindlmarket, Macy's windows, "The Nutcracker," Lights Festival, Mag Mile and State Street shopping. It's the time of year when downtown puts on its best and lights up the night, enticing visitors to relive their favorite holiday traditions and discover new ones to love.
Some of these Chicago classics have been around since Kris Kringle was a boy. For example, the City of Chicago will celebrate its 100th tree lighting this year in Daley Plaza. (The first one lit up Grant Park in 1913.) The McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade will march down State Street for the 80th time. Macy's State Street has decorated its 106th Great Tree in the Walnut Room, and has unveiled holiday windows that have been wowing window shoppers since 1897. The Museum of Science & Industry has switched on "Christmas Around the World," now in its 71st year, since it first lit a tree in honor of the Allies of World War II.
The Lights Festival — the parade and party centered on North Michigan Avenue that takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving — seems to get bigger every year since its humble beginnings in 1992. The stores stay open late, and the crowds stay for the entertainment and a fireworks show. That is after Mickey and Minnie Mouse have directed the illumination of the street's holiday light decoration. Plenty of hotels and restaurants are offering packages that weekend to celebrate.
So what's new downtown? Plenty. A spate of tony new shops have opened on and around the Magnificent Mile this year, as well as the Loop. Shoppers can now visit Kate Spade, Tom Ford, Tommy Bahama, Christian Louboutin, Burberry and many more.
A dozen new hotels have recently opened or are preparing to. They include a range of four- and five-star hotels as well as smaller, trendy "lifestyle" hotels. They include the The Langham, Chicago, on the north bank of the Chicago River, the Soho House in the West Loop, the Hyatt Place River North, and the Aloft Chicago. Of course, they all come with new restaurants and bars, waiting to tempt and refresh.
When you need a break from shopping, the Holiday Hub is debuting in the Pedway under Block 37. It's an entertainment and information spot where folks can take a break from the hubbub and listen to live music while plotting their next move. A new Loop-centered website will launch simultaneously: LoopChicago.com.
And if you haven't worked theater onto your holiday list, this is a great year to do so. "Wicked" is back for a short run. "Elf The Musical" and "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" adapt two favorites for the stage. And of course, there is "The Nutcracker," playing at two different theaters, and "A Christmas Carol" too. Plus, offbeat holiday shows feature trademark Chicago comedy.
Of course, the simple (read: free) pleasures of the season are still there: ice skating at Millennium Park, and caroling at Cloud Gate, aka, "the bean." So treat yourself and your family to a holiday season they will fondly remember with twinkles in their eyes, long after the gifts are given and the lights have gone out.