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Merry and bright — A bounty of holiday entertainment awaits

The iconic Art Institute bronze lions are dressed their giant evergreen wreaths for annual 'Wreathing Lions.' | John H. White~Sun-Times

The iconic Art Institute bronze lions are dressed in their giant evergreen wreaths for the annual "Wreathing of the Lions." | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 24, 2012 6:06AM



The day after Thanksgiving is not only the start of the holiday shopping season, it’s also when holiday-themed events kick into high gear. From light festivals to seasonal markets and festivals to music, there’s something for all preferences.

With all of these festivities at our doorstep, it’s easy to get into the spirit of the season.

ARBORETUMS, CONSERVATORIES, GARDENS

Chicago Botanic Garden’s Wonderland Express. With an outdoor backdrop of 750,000 twinkling lights, the arboretum’s annual indoor holiday garden-scale train extravaganza opens Nov. 23 and runs through Jan. 6. Adults, $12; kids 3-12, $10. Celebrate Hanukkah with Maxwell Street Klezmer Band concerts at 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 9 or get into the season’s spirit with a Christmas Brass Concert at 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 22. Tickets for both concerts are $17 in advance and $20 at the door and include the Wonderland Express. Parking, $20 per car; $25 per van. 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, (847) 835-5440; chicagobotanic.org.

Lincoln Park Conservatory Winter Flower & Train Show. Poinsettias set the scene as a miniature train travels through a village made completely from natural materials in this annual display that runs Nov. 23-Jan. 6. Free. 2391 N. Stockton, (773) 742-7736; chicagoparkdistrict.com.

Morton Arboretum’s Enchanted Railroad. Trains of different colors and styles loop through a holiday-themed track in this annual event that runs Nov. 23-Jan. 6 (closed Dec. 24-25). Free with arboretum admission. Tickets are required and can be had on a first-come, first-served basis in the visitor’s center. Adults, $11; kids 2-17, $8. 4100 Illinois 53, Lisle, (630) 968-0074; mortonarb.org.

LIGHT FESTIVALS

Brookfield Zoo, Holiday Magic. More than 1 million sparkling lights, animated light displays, ice carvings and a laser light show are highlights of the zoo’s annual winter fest. Runs 4-9 p.m. Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 and 26-31. Adults, $15; kids 3-11, $10.50; parking, $10. First Avenue and 31st Street, Brookfield, (708) 688-8000; czs.org/events.

Cuneo Museum, Winter Wonderland Holiday Light Show. Ninety-seven acres are lit up by colorful characters from classic children’s tales that are viewed from the comfort of your car. Runs 6-10 p.m. Nov. 23-Dec. 31 (closed Dec. 24-25). Monday-Thursday, $5 per car; Friday-Sunday, $10. 1350 N. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills, (847) 362-3042; cuneomansion.org.

Lincoln Park Zoo, Zoo Lights. Meet Santa, visit the animals, enjoy giant character displays and light tunnels along with a light show choreographed to holiday music against a backdrop of 2 million twinkling lights. Runs 5-9 p.m. Nov. 23-25, Dec. 1-2, 7-9, 14-16, 21-23, 26-31 and Jan. 1-6. Free. 2001 N. Clark, (312) 742-2000; lpzoo.org.

Magnificent Mile Light Festival. Michigan Avenue sparkles with lights and shops and restaurants along “Festival Lane” (as it’s dubbed during the holidays) offer discounts throughout the holiday season. Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street; themagnificentmile.com.

Symphony in Lights. Some 250,000 colored lights are computer choreographed to illuminate to the strains of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “The Lost Christmas Eve” every hour from 5-9 p.m. through Dec. 31. Free. The Promenade Bolingbrook, Boughton Road just west of Interstate 355, (630) 296-8340; thepromenadebolingbrook.com.

MISCELLANEOUS

Celebrate the Season Holiday Festival, Cantigny Park. A tree-lighting ceremony, ice carving, caroling, live reindeer and more usher in the season from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 1. Also at Cantigny, a display of trees decorated by seven nonprofit organizations begins Nov. 24. Free admission; parking $2. 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton, (630) 668-5161; cantigny.org.

Champagne Festival, Geja’s Cafe. The third annual bubbly celebration toasts the holidays with a three-month festival running Dec. 1-Feb. 28. It kicks off with a tasting Dec. 2. $30; other fest fees vary. 340 W. Armitage, (773) 281-9101; gejascafe.com.

Chicago ice rinks. The skating season opens Nov. 23 at all city ice rinks and runs through Feb. 26 at most rinks, weather permitting. Hours, skate rentals vary; admission is free at all rinks except the Rink at Wrigley and McFetridge Sports Center. (312) 742-7529; chicagoparkdistrict.com.

Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tours. Take in the magic of the Magnificent Mile and the best of Chicago’s holiday delights during these narrated tours running Fridays-Sundays Nov. 23-Dec. 23. Tours depart from the Hancock Building. $17-$35; chicagotrolley.com.

Christkindlmarket Chicago. The popular holiday market is back for its 16th year, offering traditional German gifts through Dec. 24 in Daley Plaza. Free. 50 W. Washington, (312) 494-2175; www.christkindlmarket.com.

Classic Cinemas’ 2012 Holiday Classic Film Festival, Tivoli Theatre. Arrive early to sing carols accompanied by a Wurlitzer pipe organ and then enjoy screenings of classic holiday films Dec. 9-13. $5. 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove, (630) 968-0219; www.classiccinemas.com.

Lambs Farm Holiday Lights Gift & Craft Fair. Lambs Farm offers its 32nd annual shopping festival benefiting people with developmental disabilities Nov. 30-Dec. 2. Adults, $7; kids 14 and younger, free; parking, $6. Arlington Park Racecourse, 2200 W. Euclid Arlington Heights, (847) 385-7500; holidaylightslambsfarm.com.

Holly Jolly Holidays. Play seasonal games, participate in group builds and have your picture taken with a life-size Santa made from Legos at Legoland Discovery Center Dec. 1-31. Adults, $19.95; kids 3-12, $15.75. 601 N. Martingale Road, Schaumburg, (847) 592-9700; legolanddiscoverycenter.com.

Lakeview Christmas Market. Celebrate the yule season at this new holiday market Dec. 7-9 near the Lincoln, Belmont and Ashland intersection. Held in a heated tent it features, shopping, entertainment, food and activities for kids. Adults, $5; kids, free. 1550 W. Belmont, (773) 868-3010; chicagoevents.com.

The Music Box Christmas Show. The Dec. 14-24 celebration features screenings of “White Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” along with Santa and sing-alongs accompanied by organist Dennis Scott. Adults, $12-$14 (single feature) or $17-$20 (double feature); kids younger than 13, $10 (single) or $15 (double). 3733 N. Southport, (773) 871-6607; musicboxtheatre.com.

Palmer House Hilton. Satisfy your sweet tooth from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays in December with hot chocolate and cupcake decorating or enjoy tea service Saturdays and Sundays in November and December (adults, $38; kids, $18; reservations required at 312-917-3404). Or check out the Grand Ballroom at noon Dec. 22 when 400 tuba players make merry with “Merry Tuba Christmas — a Concert of Christmas Music.” 17 E. Monroe, (312) 726-7500; palmerhousehiltonhotel.com.

Renegade Craft Fair Holiday Market. This Wicker Park holiday staple offers unique gifts along with food, workshops, music and more. Dec. 1-2. No admission. The market also marks the kickoff of the monthlong Unwrap Wicker Park initiative that offers discounts and deals at more than 50 participating shops through Dec. 24. Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 W. Blackhawk, renegadecraft.com.

Santa Hustle 5K. Thousands of Santas of all ages take to the streets to raise money for several children’s charities at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 1. $40. Starts at southeast of Soldier Field, (847) 829-4538; santahustle.com.

Buddy Valastro Live: “The Cake Boss — Homemade for the Holidays.” The star of the TLC show shares his family’s holiday traditions and stories from Carlo’s Bakery at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7. $35.75-$45.75. Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee St., Waukegan, (800) 982-2787; ticketmaster.com.

Navy Pier Winter WonderFest. Navy Pier’s 12th annual salute to the season runs Nov. 30-Jan. 6 and offers indoor ice skating, rides, a ropes course, climbing wall, entertainment, food and more. Admission is free; activity wristbands are $16-$20; discounts on activity wristbands and parking are available online. 600 E. Grand, (312) 595-7437; navypier.com.

Winter WonderLoop. The Chicago Loop Alliance’s fourth annual WonderLoop kicks off with Random Acts of Holidays Nov. 23 and continues Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22. Free, spontaneous performances and other activities will feature the Goodman Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet, carolers, holiday treats and more. The year-round “Lightscape” installation takes on seasonal colors and sounds as well. State between Lake and Van Buren; winterwonderloop.com.

MUSEUMS

Art Institute of Chicago. The annual Wreathing of the Lions takes place at 10 a.m. Nov. 23 followed by a make-a-wreath activity in the Ryan Education Center and other activities throughout the museum. Stop by the miniature Thorne Rooms, decorated for the season through Jan. 6. The caroling tea happens from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 15-16 (adults, $25; kids 12 and younger, $15; reservations required at 312-553-9675) and the annual Holly Days Festival runs Dec. 27-30. Adults, $18; students and seniors, $12; kids 13 and younger, free. 111 S. Michigan, (312) 443-3600; artic.edu.

Cernan Space Center. The dome sky and laser shows feature “Celebrations of Winter,” “Winter Wonder Light” and “Holiday” Nov. 30-Dec. 30. Sky shows: adult, $8; kids 2-12, 4; laser shows: adults, $10; kids, $5. 2000 Fifth Ave., River Grove, (708) 456-0300, ext. 3372; www.triton.edu/cernan.

Chicago Children’s Museum. Enjoy the seasonal “Snow Much Fun” exhibit by ice-skating in socks and having an indoor snowball fight. $12. 700 E. Grand, 312.527.1000; chicagochildrensmuseum.org.

DuPage Children’s Museum. Tiny Great Performances presents the DuPage Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet performing Christmas and Hanukkah favorites at 2 and 2:45 p.m. Dec. 2. Free with museum admission of $9.50. 301 N. Washington, Naperville, (630) 637-8000; dupagechildrensmuseum.org.

Elmhurst Historical Museum. Local actor Terry Lynch brings Charles Dickens to life in “Charles Dickens: His Holiday Stories” at 1 p.m. Dec. 9. Free. 120 E. Park Ave., Elmhurst, (630) 833-1457; Elmhursthistory.org.

Illinois Railway Museum. Take a train ride to visit Santa Dec. 8-9 or 15-16. $12. 700 Olson Road, Union, (815) 923-4000; irm.org.

Irish American Heritage Center. Put a bit of Irish into the holiday with the Dec. 2 Christmas Bazaar, which includes Mass, shopping, Santa and a traditional Irish breakfast ($8 for adults, $4 for kids, reservations required). Or check out the Christmas Tea from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 8 ($25, reservations required). 4626 N. Knox, (773) 282-7035; Irish-american.org.

Museum of Science and Industry. Annual favorites “Christmas Around the World” and “Holiday of Lights” run through Jan. 6. This year they take on a “Peanuts” theme in a nod to MSI’s current “Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit” exhibit. Adults, $15; kids 3-11, $10. 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, (773) 684-1414; msichicago.org.

Naper Settlement. Christmas is in the air at this living history museum, where the Martin Mitchell Mansion is the center of the festivities. Holiday mansion tours ($7) take place Dec. 15-16, with a special two-hour Victorian Holiday Traditions tour ($15) starting at 3 p.m. Dec. 15. 523 S. Webster St., Naperville, (630) 420-6010; napersettlement.org.

National Hellenic Museum. Celebrate the holiday Greek style during the family-friendly “It’s a Greek Christmas” from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 15. Adults, $10; kids 3-12, $7. 333 S. Halsted, (312) 655-1234; nationalhellenicmuseum.org.

National Museum of Mexican Art. The annual holiday market, Mercado Navideno, offers unique gifts from Mexico Nov. 23-25. Free admission. 1852 W. 19th St., (312) 738-1503; nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org.

Shedd Aquarium. “A Holiday Fantasea” showcases dolphins, beluga whales and sea lions in a show set to multicultural holiday music Nov. 25-Jan. 5. Included in Total Experience Pass: adults, $34.95; kids 3-11, $25.95. Holiday breakfasts return Nov. 24 and Dec. 8, 15 and 22 (adults, $44.95; kids 3 to 11, $34.95; make reservations at 312-692-2716). Also on tap: Jingle Jazzin’ Evenings, 5-9 p.m. Dec. 16-23, featuring live music, cocktails and more ($20, includes “Jellies” and other exhibits), and “Polar Express” and “Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas” in 4-D for seasonal fun ($6 with Shedd Pass, adults, $28.95; kids, $19.95). 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, (312) 939-2438; sheddaquarium.org.

Swedish American Museum. Traditional and modern Scandinavian crafts will be available for sale during the annual Jukmarknad Dec. 1-2, which also features Lucia processions, folk dancers and more in the Children’s Museum. $2. 5211 N. Clark St., (773) 728-8111; swedishamericanmuseum.org.

MUSIC

Akoo Theatre. Rosemont revels in the holidays with three shows: Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 ($28-$79); the Johnny Mathis Christmas Show with Gary Mule Deer, 8 p.m. Dec. 8 ($65-$95); and the Rockettes’ “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” Dec. 14-30 ($47.70-$102.55). 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont, (847) 671-5100; rosemonttheatre.com.

Apollo Chorus of Chicago. The famed choral group gives voice to Handel’s “Messiah” for the 141st year with concerts at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 (North Shore Center for Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie) and 3 p.m. Dec. 16 (Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph). $45-$55. (312) 427-5620; apollochorus.org.

Caroling at “Cloud Gate.” The seventh season of this seasonal favorite begins at 6 p.m. Nov. 23 and runs Fridays through Dec. 21 at Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate. The festive holiday sing-along will be led different Chicago choral groups each week. Free. Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe streets, (312) 742-1168; millenniumpark.org.

“A Chanticleer Christmas.” Called “the orchestra of voices,” the group performs holiday favorites at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4-5. $39-$56. Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut, (312) 294-3000; cso.org.

City Winery Chicago. Pair wine with music during several seasonal concerts: Blind Boys of Alabama’s Christmas Show (Dec. 8, $38-$45), a Hanukkah klezmer brunch (Dec. 9, $10, music only), Betty’s “The Holiday Show” (Dec. 19, $20-$35) and Michael McDermott’s “Mistletoe & Mischief” (Dec. 23, $15-$22). 1200 W. Randolph, (312) 733-9463; citywinery.com.

“Deck the Hall.” Old St. Patrick’s Church celebrates the season with candlelit holiday concerts at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29-30 (Dec. 1 is sold out) featuring the Metropolis Symphony Orchestra. $55-$75. 700 W. Adams, (312) 831-9355; oldstpats.org.

FitzGerald’s. The Berwyn music hot spot offers up several seasonal concerts: Ron Lazzeretti and Naomi Ashley’s annual “Christmas Special” mimics TV specials (Dec. 6, $10), the “Last Country Calendar Show” with Chris Ligon and Heather McAdams (Dec. 7, $20), the Brave Combo Holiday Dance Party (Dec. 15, $15), the NRBQ “Christmas Show” (Dec. 21, $20) and Robbie Fulks “Raps Up” (Dec. 29, 15). 6615 W. Roosevelt Berwyn, (708) 788-2118; fitzgeraldsnightclub.com.

Harris Theater. The Harris offers two ways to sing in the season: the Apollo Chorus of Chicago performs Handel’s “Messiah” at 3 p.m. Dec. 16 ($45-$55) and the Do-It-Yourself-Messiah, now in its 37th year, sounds off at 7 p.m. Dec. 17-18 ($10). 205 E. Randolph, (312) 334-7777; harristheaterchicago.org.

Hemmens Cultural Center. The Elgin Symphony Orchestra presents three performances of its “Let It Snow!” concert at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 16 ($26-$36). Trans Infinity Orchestra— a Night of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs holiday music at 7 p.m. Dec. 22 ($20-$59.99). 45 Symphony Way, Elgin, (847) 931-5900; hemmens.org.

“His Way for the Holidays.” Entertainer Ron Hawking sings songs of the season at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Drury Lane Theatre. $50. 100 Drury Lane, Oak Brook, (630) 530-0111; ticketmaster.com. He also performs at 6 and 9 p.m. Dec. 31 during the “Copa Concert” at the Theatre at the Center. $50. 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Ind., (219) 836-3255; tickets.com.

Kiss Kiss Cabaret. The “Holiday Spectacular!” burlesque show features an audience kazoo medley and special guests Nov. 30-Dec. 21. $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, (773) 404-7336; greenhousetheater.org.

“The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Chicago cabaret artists Laura Freeman, Beckie Menzie and Marianne Murphy-Orland celebrate the season in this concert at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 28 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. $25 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121; metropolisarts.com.

Northwestern University. NU music groups celebrate the holidays with several concerts. Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble presents “At Winter’s Edge” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 ($6). The NU Chamber Orchestra performs festive pieces at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 ($6). The NU Symphony Orchestra and choral ensembles present their 73rd holiday concert at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 and 3 p.m. Dec. 9 ($12). Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, (847) 491-5441; pickstaiger.org.

Judith Owen & Harry Shearer’s “Holiday Sing-a-Long.” The husband-and-wife team share holiday music and mirth at 7 p.m. Dec. 4. $22-$36. SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston, (847) 492-8860; evanstonspace.com.

“Polish Carols, Song and Dance.” The Lira Singers bring their traditional holiday celebration to the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts at 3 p.m. Dec. 9. $35-$55 (kids younger than 16 half price). 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, (773) 508-7040; northshorecenter.org.

Star Plaza Theatre. The holiday concert offerings are many: the Oak Ridge Boys “Christmas Show,” 4 p.m. Nov. 25 ($39); the Motown Christmas Spectacular, 7 p.m. Dec. 2 ($45); Celtic Woman: a Christmas Celebration — the Symphony Tour, 8 p.m. Dec. 7 ($35-$75); “The Colors of Christmas” with Peabo Bryson, Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis Jr., Stephanie Mills and James Ingram, 8 p.m. Dec. 14 ($60), and the Trans Infinity Orchestra performing the holiday music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra with Nicole Jamrose, 8 p.m. Dec. 15 ($25-$40). 8001 Delaware Place, Merrillville, Ind., (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com.

Symphony Hall. The Vienna Boys Choir kicks off Symphony Hall celebrations at 3 p.m. Nov. 24 ($27-$58). “Welcome Yule,” classic carols performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, takes place Dec. 14-16 and 21-23 ($35-$74). 220 S. Michigan, (312) 294-3000; cso.org.

“Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah.” The celebration of the life of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. takes place at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 and 3 p.m. Jan. 20. $30-$74. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, (800) 982-2787, ticketmaster.com/auditorium.

The Venue at Horseshoe Casino. The Brian Setzer Orchestra swings during “Christmas Rocks” at 7 p.m. Nov. 23 ($30-$68.50). Ease into the season with Kenny G.’s “2012 Holiday Show” at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 ($47-$65). 777 Casino Center, Hammond, Ind., (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com.

“Viennese Pops with a French Twist.” The New Philharmonic Orchestra rings in 2013 at 7 p.m. Dec. 31 with coloratura soprano Kiri Deonarine. $55-$65. Dominican University, 7900 W. Division, River Forest (630) 942-4000; home.cod.edu/atthemac.

“Young Voices Deck the Hall.” Children’s choirs from throughout the city share the holiday spirit with weekday noon concerts Dec. 3-21 at City Hall. Free. 121 N. LaSalle, (312) 744-6630; explorechicago.org.

Jennifer Burklow is a local free-lance writer.



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