What you don’t know about Christmas in Chicago

Holiday2From the Saturday, Dec. 20, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Sometimes, Chicago can be a Polar Vortex.

But the Windy City also can be a Winter Wonderland. And during Christmastime, its buildings, streets and parks are filled with holiday fun – and all sorts of fun holiday facts, many of which you might not know.

To help put you in the Christmas spirit this weekend, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite holiday facts from all around the city.

It’s a tradition

Chicago has more longtime holiday traditions than you can shake a Christmas tree branch at.

Among them: For 64 years, the Museum of Science and Industry has celebrated the birth of Jesus with its spectacular “Christmas Around the World” tree exhibit. For 36 years, Goodman Theatre has told Charles Dickens’ classic tale by staging “A Christmas Carol.”And for 23 years, the Art Institute has held the annual “Wreathing of the Lions” for its pair of bronzed felines along Michigan Avenue.

The CTA Holiday Train (and Bus)

Riding the “L” in Chicago isn’t always the most pleasant experience. But if you’re lucky, it actually can be magical in December.

Every Christmas season, the Chicago Transit Authority unwraps its spectacularly lit-up CTA Holiday Train, featuring Santa and his elves inside a sleigh set atop a flatbed car. The train’s interior is festooned with lights, garlands and bows, while the poles are wrapped to resemble candy canes.

Rotating on different routes, the Holiday Train instantly puts a smile on the face of weary commuters as it rolls into a station – usually as a big surprise. Although, if you’re on a normal train heading in the opposite direction, it can also leave you grumbling like a jealous Grinch.

For the first time this year, the CTA has added a Holiday Bus wrapped to look like a 60-foot reindeer – complete with antlers – and featuring “Santa’s Den” at the back, complete with a fireplace and the jolly old elf himself.

City of lights

With more than a million lights, Chicago’s annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is the country’s largest evening holiday celebration.

Caroling since 1871

Back to Chicago’s longtime holiday traditions, nothing in the city has endured longer than the Apollo Chorus, which has dazzled audiences during Christmastime for a whopping 143 years.

Each year, the 115-member, all-volunteer choir performs only twice – once at Orchestra Hall and once at Harris Theater – and is best known for its pièce de résistance, Handel’s Messiah.

State Street windows

Nothing says Christmas in Chicago quite like the windows at Marshall Field’s on State Street – even if the store is now a Macy’s.

In 1897, Marshall Field’s new display manager, Arthur Fraiser, pioneered window design. His Christmas toy windows became especially popular and continued through World War II until the visual team at Field’s devised a new plan and designed themed windows that spanned the length of State Street and allowed passersby to see entire story unfold as they walked from one end to the other.

In 1946, to compete with Montgomery Ward’s holiday creation, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Field’s introduced Uncle Mistletoe who you can still see spot today sitting atop of “The Great Tree” inside the Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s.

The Great Tree

Speaking of “The Great Tree,” Marshall Field’s iconic Christmastime centerpiece inside its seventh-floor restaurant stands 45 feet tall and sparkles with 3,000 ornaments and 6,000 LED lights.

Home Alone

Not all of Chicagoland’s iconic holiday sights are in Chicago. Up in Winnetka at 671 Lincoln Avenue sits the actual home where Macaulay Culkin was famously left “Home Alone” for Christmas.
But as Joe Pesci learned, you can’t go inside it.