Besides summertime, I don’t think there’s any better time to visit Chicago than Christmastime.
The Mag Mile is awash in glittering lights. State Street truly looking like that Great Street with the festive windows at Macy’s (R.I.P. Marshall Field’s). And people all around are bundled up with an extra layer of holiday cheer.
In fact, so much holiday hoopla swirls about the Windy City in December that it’s impossible to blow through it all. But if you’re making a list (and checking it twice), here are a few things I’d suggest putting right near the top.
Hit the rinks
You can skate the time-honored standard in Chicago — the rink at Millennium Park — or you can hit the ice at the newer spots located at Gallagher Way and in Maggie Daley Park.
Adjacent to Wrigley Field, Gallagher Way will be hopping this month with Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville, holiday movies showing on the big video board, visits from Santa and The Rink, which features figure skating performances and opportunities to skate with mascot Clark the Cub. For a full schedule of events, visit gallagherway.com.
In the heart of downtown, Maggie Daley Park’s skating ribbon is twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink and features a dramatically different experience, offering what it bills as “a multisensory activity that is integrated with the landscape.” The stellar view of the nearby skyline certainly helps. For more information and a full schedule, visit maggiedaleypark.com.
The long-running “A Christmas Carol” at Goodman Theatre in the Loop — now in its 42nd year — is the best-known holiday show in Chicago, but it’s hardly the only seasonal stage performance worth seeing.
Through Jan. 4 in Lakeview, the American Blues Theater at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., puts on the 18th annual installment of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live!” — a live 1940s radio broadcast of George Bailey’s story from the legendary 1946 Frank Capra film. The ensemble cast recreates the entire town of Bedford Falls with Foley sound effects, an original score and holiday carols — and afterward treats the audience with milk and cookies. For tickets, visit americanbluestheater.com.
For less traditional fare, “The Santaland Diaries” — best-selling author David Sedaris’ account of his tenure as a beleaguered holiday elf working at Macy’s — is at Goodman Theatre through Dec. 29 (goodmantheatre.org). Elsewhere in the Loop, Irving Berlin’s classic musical “White Christmas” takes the stage at Cadillac Palace Theater Dec. 10-15, and the holiday-themed Cirque de Soleil show “’Twas the Night Before” is currently running at Chicago Theatre through Dec. 8.
Santa at Driehaus Museum
There’s perhaps no more beautiful building in Chicago than the Driehaus Museum — especially during Christmas. A resplendently restored mansion, the museum transports visitors to the turn of the 19th century and Chicago’s Gilded Age, and does it all with a healthy dose of holiday cheer.
Located at 40 E. Erie St., the museum this year has expanded its popular “Santa Saturdays” event to include Sundays through Dec. 15. Visitors can take part in events such as art projects, sing-alongs and a visit from Santa Claus, as well as storytelling by “Aunt Holly,” a unique-to-Chicago Christmas character created by Marshall Field’s in 1946. For more information, visit driehausmuseum.org.
Chicago Polar Express
Based on the popular holiday film, “The Polar Express,” Chicago’s own Polar Express Train Ride begins on an Amtrak train at historic Union Station in the West Loop and then morphs into a “magical one-hour trip through downtown Chicago” set to the soundtrack of the motion picture while riders sip on hot chocolate. The train runs through Dec. 29. For more information, visit chicagothepolarexpressride.com.