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Best Free Thanksgiving Events In Chicago

By Lauren Wulf

Thanksgiving is one holiday that isn't about spending money and buying gifts. It's meant to be a time to give thanks, be with loved ones and most importantly, over eat. Here are some free activities going on around Chicagoland this Thanksgiving to help you save a little money before the holiday spending kicks in. Enjoy it; you only have until midnight before Black Friday.

Thanksgiving Parade

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

November 22, 2012 / 8-11a.m.
State Street from Congress to Randolph
Chicago, IL 60602

Santa Claus, Ronald McDonald and a cast of thousands bring you the 79th Anniversary of the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade, marching down State Street on Thanksgiving Day, November 22nd. Whether you're moving your feet to the carols of marching bands, gazing up at the gigantic inflatable helium balloons making their way down the street, or waving at floats, there is fun to be had by all at the biggest holiday parade in Chicago. The Thanksgiving Parade is the only parade in the city of Chicago to feature inflatable balloons every year.

Grab the kids and head over to State Street for some free parade entertainment. Over 400,000 people lines the parade route on State Street each year.

Christ Kindl Market

Christkindlmarket Chicago

November 20-December 24, 2012
Daley Plaza
50 W. Washington
Chicago, IL 60602

Of course, making purchases isn't free but the Christkindlmarket provides a great place to get in the holiday spirit, walk through Daley Plaza and get a taste if Germany right here in Chicago.

Starting Thanksgiving week, Chicago's Daley Plaza turns in to a German wonderland of holiday festivities. The market kicks off opening day November 20th with special hours on Thanksgiving Day from 11:00-4:00. The German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest, Inc. has been hosting the Christkindlmarket, the largest traditional Christmas market outside of Europe, since 1996. More than 65% of the vendors travel all the way from Germany to participate in this cultural event. Vendors offer a wide range of products, from handcrafted ornaments, toys and gifts, to traditional German food, sweets and beverages. The market transforms Daley Plaza into a holiday village complete with Santa's house and candy cane striped booths.

Sunday - Thursday: 11:00 am - 8:00 pm Friday & Saturday: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Special Hours
First Day, November 20, 2012: 2 pm - 8 pm
Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2012: 11:00 am - 4:00 pm 

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012: 11:00 am - 4:00 pm

Morton Arboretum

Morton Arboretum Free Thanksgiving Day

November 22, 2012 / 7a.m.-Sunset
4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle, IL

If your Thanksgiving Day plans include a little exercise before the big meal, The Morton Arboretum is offering free admission for everyone on Thanksgiving Day. Admission is normally $10 for seniors; $11 for adults; and $8 for children 2-17. The arboretum has 16 miles of trails and nine miles of paved roads. On-site nature gems include Meadow Lake, evergreens, the Schulenburg Prairie and more. Hours on Thanksgiving, which is November 22, 2012, are 7 a.m. to sunset. This might be the perfect way to walk off all of that turkey you just ate- just saying.

*Note- OK, so this next one isn't free but proceeds go to a great cause!*

Turkey Trot

Turkey Trot 5K in Lincoln Park

November 22, 2012 / Registration starts at 7a.m. Race at 9a.m.
Cannon Drive North Of Fullerton
Chicago, IL

The Life Time Turkey Day 5K (walk or run) will take place on Thanksgiving morning in Lincoln Park - Cannon Drive north of Fullerton. Cost is $30 or $40 race day ($20 if you are a Life Time member) and $12 for the Plymouth Rock Ramble (kids 2-12). Proceeds go to Greater Chicago Food Depository. Participants can also bring canned goods to the race to donate. Even though this event isn't technically free, the proceeds go to help those in need have food for their family on holidays and every day in between. Get trotting!

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights Festival
(Credit: Todd Rosenberg Photography / Lincoln Park Zoo)


November 23, 2012
Lincoln Park Zoo
2001 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614

The day after Thanksgiving, Lincoln Park Zoo kicks off their annual, holiday celebration, featuring luminous displays and holiday-season activities throughout the zoo grounds.
They will flip the on switch for free holiday fun on November 23. Afterward, ZooLights will shine each Friday–Sunday until December 26, at which point the lights will stay on nightly until January 6. (Santa heads back to the North Pole after December 23, however.) The always beautiful display is a must see Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago.

Lauren Wulf, CBS Chicago

Lauren Wulf writes about living in Chicago on a budget on her website, A Poor Girl's Guide Chicago.

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