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20 Ways to Have a Safe and Festive Christmas in Chicago

Elisabeth Brigham | December 8, 2020 | Lifestyle

While the holidays look a bit different this year, none of the magic of the season has been lost. From virtual tastings to curbside Santas to drive-in theaters, here are the most holly jolly Christmas events the city has to offer.

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1. Rudolph’s Christmas Bar

Legendary pop-up bar Rudolph’s Christmas Bar once again makes a stop in Chicago. Head to Lakeview this winter for extravagant wall-to-wall lights and decor, as well as guest appearances from the Grinch, Santa Claus and, of course, Rudolph. The multibar experience includes the Grinch’s Piano Bar, Frosty’s North Pole Rooftop and A Christmas Story Lounge. New safety precautions such as barriers, sanitizers and limited hours have been enforced to ensure a smooth and healthy season. "While things may be a little different this year, our goal is to bring the magic of the holiday season safely to our guests. Our team really appreciates the support from the neighborhood and from our guests during these uncertain times,” says Director of Events Melanie Papandrea. “If we stick together, we'll all end up on the nice list this year." 3660 N. Clark St.

2. Goodman Theatre

This year, the Goodman Theatre gifts Chicago its audio play of A Christmas Carol, which was recorded on-site by an all-Chicago cast. Although the 43rd annual production may feel a bit different this year, this audio version connects families near and far for the fan-favorite tradition. The audio play is available now and will be streaming for free through December 31. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the production will also be broadcast on Chicago public media stations including WBEZ 91.5 FM and Vocalo 91.1 FM. In the spirit of the season, support the production and Chicago artists through donations, or share the love with “2020. It’s All A Lot of Humbug!” ornaments, apparel and masks.

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3. Manual Cinema

Emmy-winning puppetry and performance troupe Manual Cinema premieres its rendition of the seasonal classic in Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol, a modern interpretation of Charles Dickens’ beloved novella, on stage through Dec. 20. Attendees can watch as the plot unfolds via the livestreamed and socially distanced studio production. In line with the ensemble’s personal and unique practices, the use of shadow and paper puppets will culminate in a creative and entertaining reimagination of a holiday favorite.

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4. Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!

Don’t want to eat out, but still want the holiday experience? No problem. Cafe-Ba-Ba-Reeba’s Home For The Holidays package is perfect for two. “The package helps guests recreate some of that experience in their home, sharing tapas, Spanish sangria and laughter. Three things I think we all need right now,” says executive chef Eric Jorgensen. The meal includes four tapas, four pintxos and butterscotch custards for dessert. For the main, choose from goat cheese baked in tomato sauce, spicy potatoes with tomato aioli, roasted dates with bacon and apple vinaigrette, and Spanish meatballs with sherry tomato sauce. No meal is complete without drinks; don’t skip on a classic red or white sangria pitcher or cocktails to-go. The meal is available through Tock and must be ordered by 9am the day of pickup. 2024 N. Halsted St.

5. Gene & Georgetti x Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas - The Musical

Gene & Georgetti collaborates with the producers of Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas - The Musical to create the Dinner and a Show at Home experience. Every Tuesday through Sunday 5 to 7pm, the special family-style menu for four to six will be available for pickup or delivery in time to stream the show. Chow down on Italian favorites like rigatoni buttera or chicken parmigiana, and finish the meal with classic cocktail kits and Christmas cookies. “Our wish is to keep the magic of the holidays sparkling in the eyes of children no matter what challenges we face this year,” says Executive Producer Denise McGowan Tracy. Don’t forget to order soon—the first 25 dinner orders will also relieve a complimentary copy of the book that launched this classic musical production. 500 N. Franklin St.

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6. Miracle On Washington Street

There’s no greater Chicago tradition than drinking glühwein out of a holiday mug. While the annual Christkindlmarket has been put on hold, The Press Room strives to save Christmas with its Miracle on Washington Street pop-up market. Open daily 11 am to 9PM, the market connects the city with local vendors for unique and memorable gifts. Iconic menu items made by chef Jeff Williams that are traditionally available at the Christkindlmarket will be available for pick-up and delivery, including raclette grilled cheese, schnitzel sandwiches, and housemade bratwurst and sauerkraut. Shop from a variety of handcrafted ornaments, German steins, Edgewater Candles and Italian ceramics. The Press Room will also offer its curated wine selection, pasta kits, housemade loaves of bread and cocktails to-go. 1134 W. Washington Blvd.

7. Replay Lincoln Park

Replay Lincoln Park, the neighborhood arcade bar known for its over-the-top pop-ups, puts a twist on tradition with its two new drive-in movie experiences. With twinkling Christmas lights and appearances from the Grinch, Santa and Mrs. Claus (as well as many others), families are invited to come together to celebrate the season in a safe and socially distanced way. Both, Miracle on West Madison and Holly Jolly Drive-in offer 1 ½-hour films filled with drinks from Replay and snacks to munch on. With required reservations, both experiences will run through Christmas Day and have different time slots every Thursday through Sunday. 645 W. Madison St.; 2833 N. Sheffield Ave.

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8. The Peninsula Chicago

With the arrival of the festive season, The Peninsula Chicago has ramped up its holiday offerings. On the food and bev docket, to-go options abound: The annual holiday afternoon tea returns (1-4PM, Dec. 12, 13, 19 and 20). A special Hanukkah menu (Dec.10-18) is on tap, complete with cheese blintzes, matzah ball soup, slow roasted Angus beef, and traditional or sweet potato latkes, among others. Plus, take the flavors of Christmas home (pre-order by Dec. 22; pick up Dec. 23-25, 10am-4PM) with dishes such as ribeye, ham, saffron poached pear salad, Brussels sprouts with chestnuts and holiday cookies for dessert. For a staycation treat, take advantage of the hotel’s Merry and Bright package (junior suite from $1,250 per night, through Dec. 31), which includes in-room decor of poinsettias, a Christmas tree, garland and a gingerbread playhouse, as well as a virtual visit and storytelling from Santa himself. Throughout the holidays, The Peninsula Chicago continues its one-for-one meal donation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository in partnership with on-property dining Shanghai Terrace and The Lobby. 108 E. Superior St.

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9. Beatrix

Bring in the cheer with Beatrix’s at-home gingerbread house and cookie kits. The gingerbread house kit is available for pick-up until Dec. 24 and includes one assembled gingerbread house, two gingerbread men, icing, sprinkles, gumdrop candies, assorted chocolates and decorating tips and tricks from executive pastry chef and partner Yasmin Gutierrez. The Christmas cookie decorating kit will be available Dec. 21 through Dec. 24 and includes six themed cookies, piping bags and sprinkles. “The kits are fun for everyone—both kids and adults,” says Gutierrez. “It’s a festive at-home activity that we’re happy to help provide.” 834 W. Fulton Market

10. Uvae Kitchen and Wine Bar

Uvae Kitchen and Wine Bar celebrate Chicago’s local talents with its pop-up retail market, featuring crowd favorites and a variety of local vendors. Visit the market 12 to 5PM any weekend until Dec. 20 and browse from Uvae’s featured wine selection, infused liquors, cheeses and housemade accoutrements. All vendor items are available a la carte and can be added to customized baskets that will be displayed and wrapped just for you. Choose between Twidley Bits’ basket of pickled items, fruit jams and butters; Slumbering Alligator’s holiday crafts and decor; Tasting Indias’s spices and ghee jars; and many others. 5553 N. Clark St.

See also: The 8 Best Holiday Lights Displays in Chicago

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11. Lightscape

Welcome the return of Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Sparkling lights guide the way through this after-dark event dotted with installations by local and international artists, such as “Cathedral of Light”, along newly debuted trails that have been modified to keep visitors safe and socially distanced. “We brought joy and happiness to so many people last year,” says Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development. “The fact that Lightscape is an outdoor event allows people to feel safe bringing their families to enjoy the season. So many people need something uplifting right now, and we can be that for them.” 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe

12. Aba

Join Aba and chef-partner CJ Jacobson for a virtual dinner Dec. 19. Nestle into the coziness of late winter nights and indulge in a sommelier-selected bottle of red or white wine from France’s Rhone Valley, an intimate live acoustic guitar live performance from a local musician, and an interactive Q&A with Jacobson and sommelier Alex Augustine. For dinner, dive into the mezze feast full of charred eggplant spread, crispy short rib hummus with house bread, local greens salad with tahini vinaigrette, harissa shrimp cocktail, roasted chicken tagine and Isot double chocolate cake. “Our Zoom events are special because they are fun and I enjoy interacting with guests,” shares Jacobson. “While guests follow along with the plating of the dishes, I'll often talk about what inspired me along the way, what a dish or ingredient's origin is, or share some simple tricks to riff off of it.” Order through Tock by Dec. 17 for pick-up or delivery on the day of the event. 302 N. Green St.

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13. il Porcellino

Celebrate the Old Fashion with il Porcellino’s new virtual cocktail event Dec. 17. Beverage Manager Kiva Wenig and Blaine Adams from Whistle Pig Whiskey will dive into the history and technique of this iconic drink while guests are encouraged to mix up a few variations of their own. The cocktail kit, including all needed ingredients, as well as a jigger and bar spoon, will be available for pick up the day of the virtual event. Spots are filling up fast! Get your reservation via Tock before Dec. 16. 59 W Hubbard St.

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14. Neiman Marcus

If you’re not a gift-giving-guru, stress not. Neiman Marcus is offering virtual gift advisors and finders for every name on your list. From exclusive presents to a fun assortment of trinkets, customers can take an online match quiz to be paired with the right gifting expert, who will then help you shop—either online or in-store via call, text, email, video call or direct message. Since Santa will not be sitting in store this year, Neiman Marcus has embraced new traditions and launched virtual and curbside concepts. Set up a Zoom call with Mr. Claus, or swing by the store for an epic curbside experience, where your presents can be hand-delivered by Santa every Saturday through Dec. 19 between noon and 6PM. 737 N. Michigan Ave.

See also: Modern Luxury Holiday Gift Guide 2020

15. Houndstooth Saloon

Houndstooth Saloon opens its doors this December for a holiday market on the patio every day until Christmas Eve. Holiday cabanas are available as individual dining rooms one party at a time. Traditional treats such as candied nuts, hot pretzels and cider will be available for purchase, as well as Griswold-themed specials, including a Yakking on a Bone 2-pound turkey leg. The market will showcase a variety of local artists, bakers and vendors from around Chicago, and all fees will be donated to help families in need this Christmas. 3369 N. Clark St.

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16. Elf’d Up

For the third year, Stretch Bar & Grill transforms into the now-infamous Elf'd Up pop-up bar inspired by the beloved Christmas comedy. “Every year,” says partner Tommy Leone, “We add different nuances to our decor, speciality cocktails, food menus and holiday music.” Take a bite of Buddy’s Breakfast Pasta made with spaghetti and topped, of course, with maple syrup, chocolate fudge, mini marshmallows and strawberry frosted Pop-Tarts. Cocktails like the Ninny Muggins or Sleigh All Day will also be available to sip on while admiring the floor-to-ceiling lights, 1,000 elves of all shapes and sizes, 10-foot Christmas tree, upside-down Christmas tree and wreath chandeliers.Who knows—if you come at the right time between Thursday and Sunday, you might even catch a glimpse of a Buddy the Elf impersonator. 3485 N. Clark St.

17. Swissotel Chicago Santa Suite

Escape the city and head to the North Pole with the transformation of Swissotel Chicago’s presidential suite into Santa’s haven (from $1,200 per night, through Dec. 31). This stay will cross everything off your wish list with its breathtaking views of snowy Chicago, over-the-top holiday decor, letters to Santa and build-your-own Swiss hot cocoa bar. “While Santa won’t be making any appearances,” says Marketing Manager Britany Robbins, “we will keep his spirit alive with our signature over-the-top holiday decor and festive activities for the whole family to enjoy.” The suite sleeps up to six and welcomes all with a pop of Champagne and nibbles of gingerbread cookies and holiday bark. After a night searching for Santa, wake up to a deluxe breakfast of loaded Belgian waffles and Christmas memories that will last forever. 323 E. Wacker Drive

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18. ZooLights

One of Chicago’s most cherished traditions returns to the Lincoln Park Zoo until Jan. 3. This sparkling wonderland will not only consist of millions of illuminated lights and iconic displays, but also include activities for the kids, a pop-up bar, an enchanted forest and—the greatly anticipated—socially distanced visits with Santa. Tickets are available online, but there will also be four free nights (reservations required) Dec. 9, 17, 21 and 29. For even more Christmas cheer, stay cozy at home during the virtual walk-through of ZooLights with the producers, meet-and-greet a Lincoln Park Zoo animal and enjoy the Chris White Trio Tribute to A Charlie Brown Christmas. 2001 N. Clark St.

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19. The Nutcracker

This year, The Joffrey Ballet has had to dance the now-all-too-familiar pas de bourrée pivot as it shifts—and expands—its annual programing for The Nutcracker. Enter: plentiful virtual viewing options; streaming of PBS’ Making a New American Nutcracker (through Dec. 31), which documents The Joffrey’s 2016 reimagination of the ballet; kid-friendly Virtual Enchanted Evening Nutcracker-themed classes (Dec. 11, ages 7 to 9); and The Nutcracker presentation of Art on theMART (through Dec. 30, @‌artonthemart), where signature scenes are projected on the landmark Chicago building. “We’re giving new meaning to the expression ‘larger than life,’” says Ashley Wheater MBE, Mary B. Galvin artistic director, of this year’s Art on theMART. “The process of creating such a beautiful rendition of The Joffrey’s version of The Nutcracker has been wonderfully gratifying and emotional. During these challenging times, we are so pleased to present a little holiday magic for the people and city of Chicago.”

See also: The Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker Pirouettes To Virtual Viewings

20. R.J. Grunts

Santa Claus is coming to town and he’s passing out R.J. Grunts' carryout meals all month long. From appetizers like R.J.’s famous gluten-free chili and buffalo-chicken nachos to classics such as the mushroom Swiss burger and french dip enigma, there’s something for everyone in the family. Spice up your night and call in for a curbside experience fit for the North Pole. Santa will stop by every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of December 6 to 8PM, in addition to Dec. 21 through 23. 2056 N. Lincoln Park W.



Photography by: From top: Courtesy of Rudolph's Christmas Bar; courtesy of Manual Cinema; by Jordan Johnson; by Barry Brecheisen; courtesy of The Peninsula Chicago; by Christina Slaton; courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden; courtesy of Lettuce Entertain You; courtesy of Neiman Marcus; courtesy of Stretch Bar & Grill; courtesy of Phil Parcellano; by Cheryl Mann