31 of the Best Things to Do This December Around Chicago and the Suburbs

Finally — the end of 2020 is here (do you hear the collective sigh, too?). With the close of the year comes the festive holiday season, another spent social distancing. But even from your home — or braving the outdoors — there are still events, ways to give back, virtual concerts and more to keep on your radar. Here are over 31 things you can do this December around Chicago.

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All Month

Skating in the Park at Chicago Wolves Ice Rink at Parkway Bank Park

Take a spin on the ice at the Chicago Wolves ice rink in Rosemont. Advanced registration is required, and time slots are limited to 45 minutes. 5501 Park Pl., Rosemont

Santa Wonderland Outpost at Luft Balloon

Luft Balloon

Created from over 2,500 festive balloons, Luft Balloon’s Santa Wonderland invites guests of all ages to visit, take photos, and experience the magic of the holidays during the month of December. “Santa” will appear only in balloon form this year due to Covid-19, but Luft Balloons’ team of elves are working to deliver notes straight from the big guy himself and will collect wish lists. Guests are invited to sign up for a 15-minute time slot to experience the balloon wonderland and take photos for $29.99 from 10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Thursday – Sundays as well as the entire week leading up to Christmas. 345 W Armitage Ave., Chicago

Stream Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” 

This year, Goodman Theatre is giving the community a gift with their free audio streaming of “A Christmas Carol.” Tune in to the voices you love—including Larry Yando as Scrooge—and their signature soundscape, as this classic comes to life at home.

Let it Shine Drive Thru Light Show

Experience a touchless and socially safe family tradition this season with a drive thru light show. Running thru Jan. 9 at the Northbrook Court Mall, this light show will have a wonderland of smart pixel LEDs that will perform a show all synchronized to your favorite holiday classics. Tickets are sold per vehicle and in 30-minute increments. 1515 Lake Cook Road, Northbrook

Holiday Movies at Chi Town Drive In 

Drive-in theaters of the past are making a resurgence, with social distancing and safety measures at the forefront of the fun. Drive in this season to get your fix of holiday classics like Elf and the (Chicago classic) Home Alone, from the toasty comfort of your car. You can follow @ChicagoBucketList for weekly movie schedule updates. 2343 S. Throop Street, Chicago

Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden

Lightscape at the Botanic Gardens. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

Enter a captivating world of light, color, and sound on an all-new trail for 2020, designed with safety in mind. The Botanic Garden will have thousands of twinkling lights, including the popular Cathedral of Light, and new delights that will help you make holiday memories. Advanced reservations are highly suggested, as many dates do sell out. Masks will be required, and note that the entire event is outdoors, so dress appropriately. 1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe

Donate Your Gently Used Novels To Open Books

Donate your old books for a good cause! Each donated book gets turned around and sold and the money made goes to support Open Books’ literacy and book grant programs. You can schedule a Covid safe pickup date! 651 W. Lake, Chicago

Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park

Photo courtesy of Maggie Daley Park.

The Skating Ribbon is back at Maggie Daley Park! Due to Covid-19, reservations are required to skate this year. Limited spots are available at each session, so make sure to book in advance. Masks are required while skating and in the park at all times. 337 E Randolph St., Chicago

Support Downtown Evanston Stores

Find your silver lining in downtown Evanston! Spend $100 at local businesses to get a complimentary mug.

Feed My Starving Children Food Packing Days

Throughout the month, you can volunteer for in person (and socially distanced) opportunities through Christmas Eve. Dates include Dec. 6, 13, 20 and 24th. $50 donation per volunteer is required, or $150 per household. Various locations.

Swissôtel Chicago’s Santa Suite & Holiday Themed Stays

Swissôtel Chicago

If you are looking for a festive getaway, Swissôtel Chicago has turned its presidential suite, duplex suite and guest rooms into holiday-themed retreats for the whole family. The stay includes festive decor, activities and amenities. Even better, a portion of select packages give back to SOS Children’s Villages Illinois. Learn more here. 323 E Upper Wacker Dr., Chicago

Christkindlmarket Virtual Marketplace

Christkindlmarket is a must every holiday season in Chicago. Holding a mulled wine in one hand and a platter of fried doughnuts in another, nothing is more festive than this special event. However, the market has gone virtual this year in light of the pandemic. From home, everyone can enjoy the beloved tradition through an online marketplace to purchase holiday gifts, family-friendly events and fun interactive activities.

Help Out the Greater Chicago Food Depository

The work done within the Greater Chicago Food Depository is essential work and they still need volunteers (with precautions in place). Head to their website to select a repack shift from multiple dates. Tis’ the season to give back and give big! 4100 West Ann Lurie Place, Chicago

Art on theMART

Photo courtesy of Art on theMART.

Just in time to celebrate the holidays, Art on theMART, in partnership with Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, is revealing a new program with The Joffrey Ballet. Showcasing images from the Christmas classic “The Nutcracker” and set to music from Tchaikovsky’s beloved score, the 30-minute program of projections will be shown nightly at 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. and can be viewed for free from the jetty section of the Chicago Riverwalk on Wacker Dr. between Wells St. and Franklin St.. Note: no more than 100 people can be on the Riverwalk jetty and all must comply with social distancing regulations, including masks.

DIY Donations For The Anti-Cruelty Society

Looking for a craft to do from home? The Anti-Cruelty Society has created a section on their website with DIY pet toys for you to make, that can then be donated. 510 N LaSalle Dr, Chicago

Santa at the 900 North Michigan Shops

Make your reservation to visit Santa at the 900 North Michigan shops this December! Following social distancing protocols, you can reserve a time with a $45 photo package prepayment. 900 N Michigan Ave., Chicago

Salvation Army: Register To Ring

Volunteering to ring at a kettle for the Salvation Army is such a fun and festive activity for a really good cause. Chime in this season! 

Central Street Evanston: Peace, Love & Light

Stroll under the holiday lights on Central Street to visit local stores and bring home a warm, family meal from your favorite restaurant.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo

Broofield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo’s annual Holiday Magic, presented by ComEd and Meijer, celebrates its 39th season this year. See the dazzling light displays including a 600-foot-long tunnel featuring thousands of colored lights all synchronized to music; a giant 20-foot-lit orb ideal for Instagram selfies or holiday photos; a 41-foot-tall holiday tree; larger-than-life LED animal sculptures of a bison, a bear, and a giraffe; and 660 LED-lit trees decorated with ornaments. Visitors can also play the Game of Gnomes, a brand-new family-friendly scavenger hunt in search of 24 whimsical and enchanting themed gnomes located throughout the zoo. Select dates through Dec. 31; Tickets required. 8400 W 31st St., Brookfield

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum

The eighth year of Illumination promises to be a special one: The winter tradition has been reimagined as a 2-mile driving experience designed with safety in mind. Embracing the Arboretum’s mission and identity as The Champion of Trees, the exhibition will take guests on a journey that begins with a passage through a new tunnel of lights and past favorites such as Symphony Woods, Woodland Wonder and Crystal Promenade, as well as five new visual exhibits enhanced by beautiful woodland lighting among the trees. Tickets required. 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle

LondonHouse Rudolph Rooftop Pop-Up

Celebrate the holiday season in a wintry wonderland with beautiful views of the city. The pop-up will feature outdoor igloos, an Ice Bar and comforting fare. Tickets required.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Photo courtesy of Christopher Bijalba.

ZooLights, presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ, illuminates the zoo with dazzling lights and dynamic displays. Enjoy socially distant visits with Santa, Snowy’s Spirits & S’more, an Enchanted Forest, Light Maze Presented and more! There will be two free members-only nights on Nov. 20 and Dec. 1. The zoo is also offering five free public nights Nov. 24, Dec. 9, Dec. 17, Dec. 21, and Dec. 29. Reservations required. 2001 N Clark St, Chicago

Dec. 2: A Fireside Chat with Steve Galanis

Cameo is a playful platform that enables you to receive or send personalized messages from celebrities. Join Cameo co-founder and CEO Steve Galanis for a conversation, moderated by Amber Case of Calm Technology, about the platform’s success and what’s next.

Dec. 3: Adler Astronomy Live

Stargazers, here is your chance to interact with astronomers and science historians virtually on the Adler Planetarium’s YouTube page. The free event features diverse voices in STEM, eye-popping space visualizations, cutting edge research and space science news and more.

Dec. 4 & 11: Virtual Nutcracker with Joffrey

Gather for an evening full of dancing, music, and stories with the unique opportunity from Joffrey Academy of Dance. The Joffrey Academy of Dance’s Trish Strong will lead a class of young dancers and dance enthusiasts on a Nutcracker journey, complete with special guest appearances from The Joffrey Ballet Company Artists Edson Barbosa and Julia Rust! This event is most suitable for ages 4-9. $15

Dec. 5: Winter Made in Chicago Market: Virtual Edition

Talented local sellers, makers, and crafters have joined forces to put together this fun, festive virtual holiday shopping event featuring workshops, giveaways, and—of course—great gifts.

Dec. 5: Walt Disney’s Virtual Birthday Celebration Featuring Disney Legend Tony Baxter

The Walt Disney Birthplace

Did you know Walt Disney was born in Chicago? Since 2013, the Walt Disney Birthplace has hosted a birthday celebration for the man who started it all. This year, a virtual celebration lets Disney fans from around the world join in. Get a virtual look inside the home as a celebratory candle is lit in the room where Walt was born. Register for the VIP reception package and you’ll even get to hear from Disney Legend Tony Baxter, the Walt Disney Imagineer responsible for iconic Disney attractions like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain. Learn more here.

Ends Dec. 6: Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods Presents 4th Annual Nature-Inspired Art Market

This year Brushwood’s much-anticipated Art Market goes virtual! Through Dec. 6, shop local and online for all your holiday gifts during their 4th Annual Nature-Inspired Holiday Art Market. You’ll find unique art, handmade gifts, jewelry, items for kids, home goods, books, cards and prints from over 40 local artists and makers.

Dec 5: Virtual Italian Baking Class with Osteria Via Stato

Lettuce Entertain You

Osteria Via Stato and Chef David DiGregorio will host a virtual Italian baking class featuring the Apple Crostata, perfect for the fall and holiday season. Kits includes Mick Klug Farm Apples, a rolling pin, pastry cutter and ingredients for three crostatas to be enjoyed immediately, or frozen and saved for the holidays. Place your order by noon on Wednesday, December 2, to be picked up from Osteria Via Stato on Friday, December 4 from 4:00 –7:00 p.m.

Dec. 6: Virtual Cats & Mats Yoga

Start your Sunday off right with the Anti-Cruelty Society by participating in a virtual yoga class with your favorite feline.

Ends Dec. 7: Dreams For Kids Toy Drive

The Dreams For Kids organization is rearranging their annual Holiday for Hope Toy Wrapping Party due to Covid-19, and this year they have teamed up with The Jesse White Foundation for a Toy Drive. 820 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 805 Chicago

Lettuce Entertain You

For a family-friendly activity this Hanukkah, enjoy Beatrix’s Hanukkah Cookie Decorating Kits. The kit is $16.95, plus tax and includes six Hanukkah-themed cookies, piping bags and sprinkles. Orders must be placed two days prior by 5:00 PM for pick-up or delivery between December 8 – 18 at the Beatrix location nearest you (Fulton Market, River North, Streeterville and Oak Brook).

Dec. 11-24: Music Box Chicago Sing-A-Long Experience Drive-In

Music Box Chicago

The Music Box is featuring classics It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas, with a sing-a-long twist! Each screening will kick-off with a special pre-recorded sing-a-long with Santa Claus, the Music Box carolers, and Dennis Scott on the organ. You’ll be able to belt out your favorite Christmas carols with your family from the safety of your car and then stay and watch one of our classic films. Advanced tickets required. 2343 S. Throop Street, Chicago

Dec. 12: JDRF One Dream Virtual Gala

Join JDRF on Saturday, December 12 and help open doors to a world free from type 1 diabetes (T1D). This year’s event will bring all your favorite parts of the Gala right to your home including a robust silent and live auction, inspirational stories from the T1D community, and live entertainment.

Dec. 13: WINGS 18th Annual Virtual Sweet Home Chicago family holiday brunch

Support families impacted by domestic violence, who need help more than ever. This virtual event will deliver the Sweet Home Chicago package directly to you, including your favorite festive eats, treats and activities to enjoy at home with family and friends.

Dec. 13: The Chris White Trio Tribute to A Charlie Brown Christmas

Lincoln Park Zoo

There are a lot of soundtracks that cue the Christmas memories, one being the unforgettable soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Experience the nostalgia by purchasing a virtual ticket to hear the Chris White Jazz Trio cover Vince Guaraldi’s famous tracks. 7-8 p.m.

Dec. 13: Attila In Concert

The Lyric Opera concert of Attila has not been canceled; however, it will now be available on Lyrics Opera’s YouTube channel and its Facebook page. 6 p.m.

Ends Dec. 14: Santa’s Reindeer at Chalet Nursery

Get in the festive spirit at Chalet Nursery by surrounding yourself with lights, the smell of fresh trees (for sale!), and reindeer! 3132 Lake Ave, Wilmette

Dec. 15: Virtual Onboarding During the Pandemic: How to Give New Employees a Running Start 

Tune in to hear Tracy Brower, Principal, Applied Research + Consulting, Steelcase; Author, Bring Work to Life; Contributor, Forbes.com and Fast Company, discuss new hires in a pandemic. She will talk about how onboarding has changed for companies during Covid-19. Furthermore, she will touch on how to make a new employee feel connected while working virtually, all the while trying to instill the company’s values and cultures in the new team’s addition.

Dec. 17: Virtual Old Fashioned Class with il Porcellino

Lettuce Entertain You

Join il Porcellino Beverage Manager Kiva Wenig and Blaine Adams of Whistle Pig Whiskey for a virtual and interactive cocktail event dedicated to the Old Fashioned. Learn the history and technique behind one this iconic cocktails and try your hand at mixing up a few variations at home. Guests will be provided with all the ingredients to make the cocktails along with a jigger and bar spoon. Tickets are $35.95 per person, plus tax, with a two ticket minimum. Guests will pick up their bar kits the day of the virtual event between 1:00-5:00 p.m. at il Porcellino. Orders must be placed by 12:00 PM on Wednesday, December 16. 59 W Hubbard St., Chicago

Dec. 17: Chicago Children’s Choir Virtual CCC Fireplace Special

Thee CCC invites audiences to cozy up for a free Fireplace Special at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 17. The event will be live-streamed on Chicago Children’s Choir’s Facebook and YouTube Channels, and will feature performances from CCC’s Voice of Chicago, Dimension and Neighborhood Choir singers.

Dec. 18: CHICAGO A CAPPELLA Online Holiday Party Concert

Join Chicago a cappella for their first Online Holiday Party, a streaming holiday concert event taking place on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m., featuring live solo performances, video performances from previous holiday concerts, and two new virtual choir video performances by the ensemble’s outstanding vocalists. Tickets are $8.

Ends Dec. 20: Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol

For our A Christmas Carol super fans who want to watch this story in as many ways as possible, we have another one for you! The Manual Cinema is bringing A Christmas Carol to life through the use of hundreds of paper puppets! The show can be viewed throughout the month via Zoom through ticket purchase.

Ends Dec. 20: Evanston Art Center’s Winter Arts & Crafts Expo

The Evanston Art Center’s Winter Arts & Crafts Expo is one of the largest and most celebrated craft shows in the Chicago area. The annual Winter Expo features original arts and crafts by over 140 selected artisans, featuring works of jewelry, ceramics, fiber, metal, glass, painting, photography, mixed-media, and more.

Ends Dec. 27: Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish – The Musical

Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish

This virtual musical, which tells the magical story of a North Pole doll named Eleanor who makes the Christmas wish for a new home, is sure to be a hit for the whole family. Upon your purchase you can select the party pack which will include a copy of the book, games and stationary.

Dec. 31: Chicago New Year’s Eve 5K

Join the Chicago Sport and Social Club for a 5K through Chicago’s Lincoln Park and the Lakefront. End the 3.1 miles with a toast to your morning accomplishment as you kick off the celebrations into a new year! 1010 N Hooker St., Chicago

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