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The Best Thanksgiving Events In Chicago

McDonald's® Thanksgiving Parade
(Photo Credit: McDonald's® Thanksgiving Parade's Facebook)

Think lights, camera opportunities and action amidst nature when looking for something to do Thanksgiving Day before gobbling down turkey or during the weekends before and after Thanksgiving instead of bucking the shopping crowds. Some of the following events have become family traditions. Others listed here are so good that they may become a tradition or added to this year's Thanksgiving holiday do list.

BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
North Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 409-5560

Date: Nov. 22, 2014  - 11 a.m.

The day starts with entertainment on the BMO Harris Stage from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The stage is in Pioneer Court, 401 N. Michigan Ave. next to the Tribune Tower. The event continues on North Michigan Avenue, popularly known as the "Mag Mile," with street entertainment and nibbles inside some of the shops. Excitement builds as visitors line the Mag Mile and listen for the first bands heading south from Oak Street at about 5:30 p.m. Cameras flash as Mickey and Minnie Mouse come down the street waving magic wands that turn on Michigan Avenue's decorative tree lights. A procession of other Disney characters, balloons, floats and bands pass cheering crowds on their way to to the Chicago River where fireworks light up the sky about 6:55 p.m.

McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade
State St.
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 235-2217

Date: Nov. 27, 2014 - 8 a.m.

Chicago's Thanksgiving Day Parade draws nearly four million TV viewers but more than 400,000 spectators annually downtown to ooh at its giant balloons, wave to Ronald McDonald in his giant red shoe, cheer the bands, dance groups and equestrians, watch stars from local theater productions perform and take photos. The parade starts at Congress Parkway at the south end of the downtown but a good place to watch is near Macy's near Washington Street to catch the theater acts.

Thanksgiving For Nature Scavenger Hunt
Hastings Lake - Lake Villa
1899 W. Winchester Road
Lake Villa, IL 60048
(847) 968-3321

Date: Nov. 23, 2014 - 1 p.m.

Participants learn about nature's gifts as they look for answers to the scavenger hunt's clues. Visitors are given a blank clue sheet, field guides and a map but they leave the clue cards they find where posted so others can see them. Clues are about benefits provided by an insect, tree, plant or animal. An example would be how the Honey Locust is used. The hint: "This is a big point. Also, because of these you may not want to hug this tree." Participants don't have to arrive at 1 p.m. because the event is a drop-in activity but they should allow 45 to 75 minutes to complete. When done, there are hot beverages by a bonfire and prizes. Registration with payment is recommended online at Lake County Forest Preserves District or by phone. Click here for the information form. The cost is $2 for adults and children. On-site day-of registration is allowed if the event is not full but exact change is needed. Hastings Lake is in north-central Lake County west of US Highway 45. Click here for a map and directions.

Related: Best Chicago Restaurants Open On Thanksgiving

Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle, IL 60532
(630) 968-0074

Date: Nov. 21, 2014 through Jan. 3, 2015 - 9:30 p.m.

Illumination makes Morton Arboretum a destination even after the leaves fall. Nature and light combine for the event in "Symphony of Light" and "Meadow Lake Magic." Light movements are choreographed to fit recorded music by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Special lighting effects showcase a lake and trees. Family activities during Illumination include a scavenger hunt and interactive stations.

"The Wizard Of Oz"
Marriott Theatre
10 Marriott Drive
Lincolnshire, IL 60069
(847) 634-0200

Date: Nov. 7, 2014 through Jan. 3, 2015

The weekends that bookend Thanksgiving are often a chance to take in a show. "The Wizard of Oz" at Marriott Theatre is a natural choice when looking for a family-friendly show with meaningful characters and memorable lines. There's hardly a better time than Thanksgiving to reflect on the "Oz" line, "There's no place like home," or on being thankful for what one is and has. By the last scene, all ages understand that the story starts with seeking to fulfill such dreams as obtaining a heart but ends with the realization of what one has. Whether doing an adult production or a show geared to all ages, Marriott Theatre musicals are well-acted and beautifully choreographed and sung. Noted Chicago choreographer and director Rachel Rockwell is handling this production. The show's regular opening after previews is November 22 in time for Thanksgiving.

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Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on


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