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Top Five Don't Miss Holiday Experiences

December 17th
6 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Usher in the season at the Winter Solstice Festival, North Park Nature Center

Don your cold weather gear and celebrate the official start of winter outdoors at a nature oasis in the middle of the city. The Winter Solstice Festival at the North Park Nature Center welcomes the long Chicago winter with live music, crafts and more. Take a walk along the 1.5 mile moon and luminary-lit trails and see if you can spot deer tracks in the snow. Marvel at the frozen marsh. Visit with animals from the Big Run Wolf Ranch and enjoy the musically celebrated holiday treat of chestnuts roasted on an open fire. As always, admission to the North Park Nature Center is free; no registration required.


Window shopping on State Street and lunch under the grand tree at Macy's

Since the early 1870's, Macy's (formerly known as Marshall Fields) has been wowing children and adults alike with its famed holiday window displays and 45-foot Christmas Tree – the giant centerpiece of the wood-paneled Walnut Room. Marvel at the window displays, finish up your Christmas shopping (don't forget the Frango Mints – once again made in Chicago!) and then enjoy lunch treeside in the Walnut room.


Lincoln Park ZooLights

Enter a snow blanketed winter wonderland illuminated by millions of festive lights at Lincoln Park Zoo's annual ZooLights. Enjoy visits with Santa Claus, live music, holiday crafts and large-scale ice carving. Escape from the chill by visiting with your favorite animals, especially the crocodiles, pygmy hippos and meerkats at the Regenstein African Journey. ZooLights runs every weekend from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. (closed Dec. 24 and 25). During ZooLights festivities, the zoo is open until 9 p.m. As always, admission is free.

Welcome Yule at Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Listen to the celebrated songs of the season as performed by simply the best musicians in the city: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Arrangements both new and cherished will have you humming and sometimes singing along. Featuring a special guest visit by that generous, rosy-cheeked man from the North Pole.

Take a ride around the loop on the CTA Holiday Train

Even the city's trains get into the holiday spirit! A regular, plain old 6-car CTA train is decked out in red bows and garland, and thousands of sparkling lights outline the windows and tops of the cars. The hand poles are decorated to look like candy canes! In the middle of the train are Santa and his reindeers, his sleigh perched atop an open-air flatbed car. At each stop, Santa and his elves hop off to treat passengers to minty candy canes. The Holiday Train will travel all CTA rail lines in November and December, from about 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on select weekdays (schedules for lines will vary), and will make stops at all stations along the respective routes, as part of regular rail service. Normal CTA fares apply. Detailed schedules will be posted on as they become available.

Amy Bocchetta is a writer, a teacher, and a mom to two kids. She lives in the city and blogs at

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