Holiday Entertainment Guide 2020: Celebrate the season with Chicago-area theater, dance, musicmakers and moreon December 9, 2020 at 2:20 am

It’s a fact: We could all use some holiday cheer these days. And even amid a pandemic, there are still many seasonal events to make your holidays merry, while supporting many local artists and artisans.

When it comes to live events, the rule of thumb is simple: Outdoors is in and indoors is out. Zoos and botanic gardens are offering their annual light extravaganzas, while museums are offering only streaming events. And many holiday theater and dance staples such as “The Nutcracker,” “A Christmas Carol,” Christkindlmarket,” Andrew Bird’s “Gezelligheid” and many more are also transitioning to online presentations. All in-person events will follow all COVID-19 precautions. Please consult individual websites for updated information and more specifics.

Here’s a sampling of some of what’s offered this season across the Chicago area and streaming online.

Above all, take some time to breathe — and be entertained. Happy Holidays!

The official 2020 Christmas tree in Millennium Park.
The official 2020 Christmas tree in Millennium Park.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The festive season got underway with the city’s always very large and very pretty holiday tree in Millennium Park (to Jan. 7). There was no public lighting ceremony this year, but a 30-minute virtual program “Millennium Park at Home: Chicago Holidays” ( features music performances by Chicago Children’s Choir, Sones de Mexico and Percy Bady with a tribute to Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” There will be no skating in the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink this season but the Maggie Daley Park Ice Skating Ribbon will be open. Reservations ( and masks are required. Admission is free to all park events;


Holiday Happenings at the Art Institute of Chicago: The lions that flank the entrance to the museum will be wearing their usual holiday wreaths but no public “Wreathing of the Lions” ceremony will take place. Scaled back holiday events this year include several free virtual art tours: “Gratitude” (Dec. 2) looks at works of art that encourage us to slow down, focus in and make connections; “Home for the Holidays” (Dec. 16, 18) explores artworks that connect us with what makes the holiday meaningful. Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan, included with admission except where noted;

National Museum of Mexican Art: Virtual holiday events include art-making for parents and toddlers (Dec. 5, $20); Cafe y Compras: Holiday Edition, a visit with two local artisans plus a peek at the museum’s online gift shop (Dec. 6, Free), and a paper mache ornament workshop (Dec. 19, Free);


ZooLights has returned to Lincoln Park Zoo for the holiday season.
ZooLights has returned to Lincoln Park Zoo for the holiday season.
Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights: The zoo grounds are transformed into a land of twinkling lights. To Jan. 3, $5. Additional festive activities include a socially distant visit with Santa, an Enchanted Forest ($3); light maze ($3) and more. Other events include, an evening to enjoy seasonal and international craft beers; Holidaze (Dec. 10, sold out), an after-hours event for adults with music and cash bar; Chris White Trio with a tribute to Vince Guaraldi’s “Charlie Brown Christmas” (Dec. 13, live event is sold out, $15 for virtual stream). There’s also the ZooLights Virtual Challenge, a race with various distances and packages that is a fundraiser for the zoo (Nov. 27-Jan. 3, $24.99+). Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark;

Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic: The zoo is illuminated with more than one million twinkling lights, animal sculptures, lights synchronized to music and Game of Gnomes scavenger hunt (Nov. 27-Dec. 31, $17.95-$24.95). No Santa appearance this year but there will be a life-size cutout for selfies, and kids can drop off letters addressed to the North Pole. Brookfield Zoo, 8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield;


Morton Arboretum’s Illumination — Tree Lights: The eighth annual event is reimagined as a drive-through experience with new light displays, drive-up concessions and a customized music soundtrack. The 2-mile route includes 11 light displays including new features as well a returning favorites such as Symphony Woods, Woodland Wonder, Crystal Promenade and more. There’s also a drive through concession stand. To Jan. 3 at Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL Route 53, Lisle, $29-$49, timed advance tickets required;

Chicago Botanic Garden — Lightscape: The night comes alive at this holiday light show featuring a world of color, imagination and sound. The illuminated trail features displays created by Chicago and international artists. To Jan. 3 at Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook, Glencoe, sold out;


Oscar (Jack Knight, clockwise from top row, left), Fred (Ameya Patankar), Topper (Chris Talia), Ursula (Maya Maempf), Elizabeth (Monica Patankar) and Ambrosia (Francesca Brummel), and are among the cast of the College of DuPage Theatre’s version of “A Christmas Carol.”

“A Christmas Carol”: College of DuPage Theatre presents a filmed version of William J. Norris’ adaptation of the holiday classic. Streams Nov. 27-Jan. 3, $16;

“A Christmas Carol — An Audio Play”: The Goodman Theatre presents a streaming audio version of its annual staging of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday story with Larry Yando returning as Ebenezer Scrooge; directed by Jessica Thebus. Streams Dec. 1-31, also broadcast on WBEZ (91.5 FM) and Vocalo (91.1 FM) on Dec. 24-25, Free;

Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present in Manual Cinema’s livestreamed production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol: The performance collective’s imaginative adaptation, co-commissioned by Writers Theatre, updates the holiday tale for the 2020 holiday season as Aunt Trudy, an avowed holiday skeptic, is recruited to channel her late husband’s famous Christmas cheer. Performances livestreamed Dec. 3-20, $15-$50; and

A Christmas Carol: Writers Theatre presents the holiday tale adapted by and featuring Michael Halberstam in a solo performance; directed by Stanton Long. Streams Dec. 8-Jan. 3, $15-$50;

A Christmas Carol in the Dark:Theatre in the Dark presents an audio play adaptation of the holiday classic. Livestreams Dec. 10-24, $25-$30;

A Christmas Carol: London’s The Old Vic presents Matthew Warchus’ staging of Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the holiday classic with Andrew Lincoln (“The Walking Dead”) as Ebenezer Scrooge. Each performance is livestreamed Dec. 12-24, $13-$86;

A Christmas Carol: New York’s Summoners Ensemble Theatre in association with Merchant’s House Museum presents the holiday classic with John Kevin Jones as Charles Dickens, who embarks on a telling of his classic holiday tale. Streams Dec. 18-24, Free (donations appreciated) but reservations are required; or

Larry Yando records the role of Scrooge in Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol — An Audio Play,” which features an all-Chicago cast of 19 and an updated audio adaptation (by director Jessica Thebus.
Frank Ishman


It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!: American Blues Theater its 19th annual radio-play adaptation of Frank Capra’s classic film. The 80-minute production is livestreamed with actors performing at their homes; directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside. Streams through Jan. 2, $25-$55;

“Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish — The Musical”: A family-friendly musical, based on the book by Denise McGowan Tracy, about a rag doll who lives in the magical world of the North Pole. Streams Nov. 27-Dec. 27, $25, party boxes $70, $85;

Christmas Bingo — It’s a Ho-Ho-Holy Night: Vicki Quade’s holiday show brings together two of the best things about being Catholic — Christmas and bingo. A portion of ticket sales goes to the retirement fund for the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago. Streams Nov. 27-Dec. 27, $20;

“The Steadfast Tin Soldier”:In Lookingglass Theatre’s staging of Hans Christian Andersen’s story, director Mary Zimmerman concocts a spectacle about the unlikely adventures of a little tin soldier. Streams Dec. 1-27, $25;

“Burning Bluebeard” streams Dec. 4-Jan. 3, via Porchlight Music Theatre.
Michael Courier

“Burning Bluebeard”: Porchlight Music Theatre presents Jay Torrence’s play inspired by the 1903 Iroquois Theatre Fire, a story told with music, clowning, tumbling, acrobatics and dance. Streams Dec. 4-Jan. 3, $15-$50;

The Rip Nelson Holiday Quarantine Special: Hell in a Handbag Productions celebrates the holiday with the return of America’s favorite funnyman; directed by Stevie Love. Streams Dec. 4-Jan. 9, $25; or

“Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins”: Strawdog Theatre’s reimagined staging of Michael Dailey’s adaptation of the classic children’s holiday book by Eric Kimmel returns in an all-new virtual production performed live; directed by Spencer Ryan Diedrick. Livestreamed Dec. 5-20, $25-$30;

Black Ensemble Virtual Holiday Extravaganza:Black Ensemble Theater cast members and musicians perform holiday songs. Streams Dec. 18-25; $25;

The Chimes:Remy Bumppo Theatre presents Nick Sandys’ one-man adaptation of a Charles Dickens’ work, the second of the so called Christmas novellas. Streams Dec. 7-Jan. 3, $15;

The Rip Nelson Holiday Quarantine Special.
The Rip Nelson Holiday Quarantine Special.
Rick Aguilar Studios

Fefu and Her Friends: An impressive lineup of Chicago actresses star in this staged reading of Maria Irene Fornes’ feminist classic. A benefit for Season of Concern, it stars Charin Alvarez, Sandra Delgado, Ora Jones, Delia Kropp, Sadieh Rifai, Lisa Tejero, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Penelope Walker; Stacy Stoltz directs. Streams Dec. 5-12, $10;

PlayMakers Laboratory company members Deanna Myers and Caleb Probst perform in “That’s Weird Grandma — House Par-Tay.”
Evan Hanover

That’s Weird, Grandma — House Par-Tay: Playmakers Laboratory rings in the holidays with stories written by elementary school students, adapted and performed by professional actors. Streams Dec. 7-28, $2-$4;

Happy Holidays from Porchlight!: Porchlight Music Theatre presents a holiday special featuring Porchlight favorites singing holiday classics and winter-themed songs for a variety of musical theatre productions. Streams Dec. 11-Jan. 3, $15-$50;

Wally World: For the second entry in its Steppenwolf Now series, Steppenwolf Theatre presents a two-act radio play by Isaac Gomez set on Christmas Eve at a superstore as employees do everything they can to find purpose in a place that has never seen purpose in them. Co-directed by Gomez and Lili-Anne Brown. Streams Dec. 15-Aug. 31, $75 membership includes access to all six virtual productions in the series;

“Peter Pan — A Musical Adventure”: Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s 2018 production of the classic tale; directed by Amber Mak. Streams Dec. 19-Jan. 1, Free;

Jack Morsovillo in Strawdog Theatre Company's 2019 production of HERSHEL AND THE HANUKKAH GOBLINS. Photo by Jesus J. Montero
Jack Morsovillo in Strawdog Theatre Company’s 2019 production of “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.”
Jesus J. Montero


The Nutcracker: Ruth Page Center for the Arts presents a trio of holiday events. “A Sugar Plum of a Tradition — Ruth Page’s The Nutcracker Past Present & Future” is a behind-the-scenes look at the holiday classic featuring archival footage, interviews and commentary from the artists behind the production, a holiday tradition since 1965. Streams Nov. 27-Dec. 31, $20. An online fundraising auction streams Nov. 30-Dec. 16. “Visions — A Nutcracker Experience” transforms the holiday tradition into a new experience taking place over the five floors of the Ruth Page Center. Streams Dec 4-20, $45;

Making a New American Nutcracker: While there won’t be a staging of the Joffrey Ballet’s annual holiday ballet this year, fans can instead enjoy a free stream of this PBS documentary (Dec. 1-31). Also young dancers can take a Virtual Enchanted Evening “Nutcracker” journey with Joffrey company members, for ages 4-6 Dec. 4 and ages 7-9 Dec. 11, $15;

Ruth Page Civic Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” dancer Elias Re.
Anthony Robert La Penna

“The Art Deco Nutcracker”: A&A Ballet’s adaptation, set in 1920s America, is a fresh take on the holiday favorite. If COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, limited-audience performances will take place on Dec. 19-20 at the Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan. If the guidelines stay the same, the performances will be streamed. Tickets are $15-$50;

“The Nutcracker”: Hyde Park School of Dance presents a virtual performance of the classic that features ballet, modern dance and hip-hop. Streams Dec. 11-20, $25;

“Dance-Along Nutcracker”: In lieu of the Chicago Cultural Center’s annual event, the original Dance-Along Nutcracker is streamed by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. Streams Dec. 12-13, Free;

“The Nutcracker”: Celebrate the holiday season with Ballet Chicago’s staging of the holiday classic. Features archival performances as well as performances with the company’s current roster. Streams Dec. 18-30, $16-$51;

Great Russian Nutcracker: Moscow Ballet’s staging of the classic features world-class Russian dancers, hand-painted sets, Russian snow maidens and nesting dolls. Streams Dec. 19-Jan. 1, $24.99;


Hubbard Street Dance Chicago: Debut of “The Sky Was Different,” a film of new work by former company member and choreographer Jonathan Fredrickson. Streams Dec. 3, 5-6, Free;

Ensemble Espanol: Annual holiday show features favorite dances performed by company members, guest artists and members of Ensemble Espanol Youth Company. Streams Dec. 12, Free;


Ramsey Lewis performs during the 40th Annual Chicago Jazz Fest in 2018.
Ramsey Lewis performs during the 40th Annual Chicago Jazz Fest in 2018.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Ramsey Lewis Trio: The jazz pianist revisits his classic holiday record “Sound of Christmas. Streams Nov. 28, $20;

FitzGerald’s 12 Streams of Christmas: Jon Langford, Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Dec. 2), The Western Elstons (Dec. 15), Honky Tonk Christmas with Big Sadie and The Lawrence Peters Outfit (Dec. 20), James McMurtry, Pat MacDonald (Dec. 23) and more to be announced. Free;

Jim Brickman: The pianist-songwriter blends personal yuletide memories with holiday carols. Livestreams Dec. 4, $40-$125;

Alfreda Burke & Rodrick Dixon: The “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah” soloists, accompanied by the Jo Ann Daugherty Trio, perform their favorite holiday standards and spirituals. Streams Dec. 4-Dec. 31, $25;

Candlelight Carols: The St. Charles Singers present Christmas songs from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Streams Dec. 6, Free;

New Philharmonic — Holiday Sing-a-Long with the Symphony: Featuring vocalists Emily Birsan, Kate Tombaugh, Bill McMurray and Jesse Donner. Streams Dec. 12-Jan. 3, $40;

Celtic Family Christmas — At Home: Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy share music and holiday family traditions. Streams Dec. 12-Dec. 31, $20;

Andrew Bird presents “Gezelligheid,” streaming at
Jesse Lirola

Andrew Bird’s “Gezelligheid”: An intimate performance concentrating on instrumental violin pieces. Livestreams Dec. 13 and on demand to Dec. 31, $20;

Laurie Berkner: A holiday family concert full of singing and dancing with the popular children’s performer. Livestreams Dec. 13, $20, $80 meet-and-greet package;

Lucinda Williams: In the final two evenings of her livestreamed “Lu’s Jukebox” series, the singer-songwriter rocks the holidays (Dec. 17) and welcomes the New Year with the music of the Rolling Stones (Dec. 31), $20-$40;

Brandenburg Concertos: Harris Theater presents Bach’s six masterpieces performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Streams Dec. 17, 21, Free;

A Chanticleer Christmas — From Darkness to Light: A program of works by Antoine Brumel and Josquin Des Prez plus Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria.” Streams Dec. 6-27, $25;

Home for the Holidays: Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians perform songs of the season including Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto” and Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.” Streams Dec. 17-Jan. 15, $15;

Chicago Children’s Choir Fireplace Special: Features a mix of well-known traditional repertoire and holiday songs – from Mozart’s Lacrimosa (from the Requiem mass) to “The Christmas Song.” Streams Dec. 17, Free;

Barenaked Ladies: Like variety shows from holidays past, the virtual event features sketch comedy written by the band, a few special surprises and performances including holiday fan favorites. Steams Dec. 18, $15;

Presley, Perkins, Lewis & Cash — Million-Dollar Christmas: Rockin’ holiday tunes from the legends. Streams Dec. 19-Jan. 3, $50;

Big Band Holidays: Jazz at Lincoln Center presents a virtual concert featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Ruben Blades, Catherine Russell, Kurt Elling, Ashley Pezzotti and more. Streams Dec. 19, $25;

New Philharmonic — New Year’s Eve Concert: Featuring soprano Alisa Jordheim and tenor Jesse Donner. Streams Dec. 31-Jan. 3, $50;


Christkindlmarket: The annual German-style holiday market goes virtual this year. Visitors can explore and purchase items from the online marketplace and enjoy family-friendly events and interactive activities. Streams through Dec. 31, Free;

Macy’s Great Tree & Windows: View the 113th annual Great Tree, a 45-foot tall tree decorated with 2,000 ornaments and 6,600 lights and pick up family-style takeout meals from the Walnut Room. Plus check out the store’s decorated holiday windows. Macy’s, 111 N. State;

Holiday Experience at FitzGerald’s: While live shows remain elusive, the Berwyn club is open for quarantine partners and family bubbles to enjoy. Book the club for a seasonal film or the SideBar for a date night or a 45-minute session in the photobooth. For more information, visit

Holiday Classics at the Drive-In:Films include “Home Alone” (Dec. 11), “Elf” (Dec. 12), “Gremlins” (Dec. 17), “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Dec. 18), “A Christmas Story” (Dec. 19) and “Die Hard” (Dec. 26). The Drive-In at Lincoln Yards, 1397 W. Wabansia, $35 per car;

Art on the Mart: The latest edition of nightly projections on the facade of the Merchandise Mart features images from the Joffrey Ballet’s holiday classic “The Nutcracker,” the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibits “Monet and Chicago” and “Bisa Butler: Portraits” and artwork from the organization Arts of Life, which showcases work by individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities. Nightly to Dec. 30, on Wacker, between Wells and Franklin, Free;

One of a Kind Holiday Show: The popular market goes online for the holiday season with its usual fascinating array of unique gifts including jewelry, household items, food, clothes, art and other items. Streams through Dec. 6, Free;

Small Print Show: Find unique artwork from more than 60 artists at the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative’s annual show. Shop either in person (3 people at a time) or online. To Feb. 6 at 4912 N. Western, Free;

Houndstooth Holiday Market: Find handmade holiday ornaments, candied nuts, hot pretzels, hot cider and more at this outside market. To Dec. 31, Free;

Rudolph’s Rooftop: Dress warm for the pop-up on the rooftop terrace at LondonHouse Chicago, which features holiday decor, photo ops and outdoor igloos. To Jan. 3, $50 includes two cocktails and two bites;

Rudolph's Christmas Bar pop-up.
Rudolph’s Christmas Bar pop-up.

Santa Baby and Rudolph’s Christmas Bar: Two outdoor pop-up bars in the Wrigleyville neighborhood offer immersive, interactive holiday experiences plus the usual libations. Donations to Toys for Tots can be made at both locations. To Jan. 7 at Santa Baby, 3505 N. Clark and Rudolph’s Christmas Bar, 3660 N. Clark, Free-$20+; or

Holiday Market: A Christkindlmarket-themed outdoor pop-up featuring German food, cocoa, cider and vintage Christkindlmarket mugs. From Nov. 27-Dec. 24 at DMen Tap, 2849 W. Belmont;

Holiday in the Park: A walk-through outdoor light extravaganza along with shows, children’s activities, holiday-themed photo ops, holiday food and more. No rides will be open. Nov. 27-Dec. 30 at Six Flags Great America, 1 Great America Parkway, Gurnee, $19.99;

Chicago Wolves Ice Rink: Parkway Bank Park’soutdoor ice skating rink runs Nov. 27-Jan. 5. Limited capacity; reservations are required. Parkway Bank Park, 5501 Park Place, Rosemont, Free;

Virtual Holiday Stories Happy Hour: Chicago Detours’ interactive holiday event takes viewers to the city’s most beloved holiday landmarks and hidden gems while also telling the historical stories that celebrate Chicago’s festive spirit. Streams Nov. 27-Dec. 28, $20, $35;

Holidays at Burr Ridge Village Center: Features the Good Gift Holiday Pop-up with jewelry, clothing and accessories from local businesses (Nov. 27-Dec. 23) and a Mistletoe Market featuring handmade items (Dec. 12). Burr Ridge Village Center, 701 Burr Ridge Pkwy, Burr Ridge, Free;

Santa -- The Experience streams Dec. 1-24.
Santa — The Experience streams Dec. 1-24.

Santa — The Experience: A virtual experience in which families can take an interactive elf-led journey to the North Pole and explore Santa’s favorite winter wonderland. Plus you can video chat with Santa! Streams Dec. 1-24, $34.95+;

Holiday Artisan Market: Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s online pop-up shop features 25 Chicago artisans showcasing one-of-a-kind, homemade items. Streams from Dec. 3-6, Free;

Vintage Holidays in Long Grove: The annual lighting of the Christmas tree is a virtual event this year with Christmas songs, a sing-a-long and story telling. Streams from 4-5 p.m. Dec. 5;

Hyde Park Art Center: A virtual ornament-making workshop by artist Dorian Sylvain. Streams Dec. 6, Free;

NOTE: All information was accurate as of publication date. Please check with individual productions/venues for complete information.

The Santa Baby pop-up bar runs through Jan. 7 at 3505 N. Clark.
The Santa Baby pop-up bar runs through Jan. 7 at 3505 N. Clark.
Kailley Lindman Photography

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