Holiday revelers at Christkindlmarket in Chicago are getting the boot, and they couldn’t be happier about it.
At this German-themed Christmas market in Daley Plaza, a jovial family wraps mittened hands around steaming boot-shaped mugs of hot chocolate and glühwein, a mulled red wine that emits an enticing aroma of cinnamon and cloves. Then, they raise them high, kicking off the holiday season with a clamorous toast.
Chicago is an action-packed, family-friendly city at any time of the year, but during the holidays, it transforms into a glittering urban landscape with enough activities to keep you busy for the Twelve Days of Christmas and beyond.
For many locals, purchasing a keepsake mug at Christkindlmarket is a Christmas tradition. The popular boot design hasn’t been around since 2015, and collectors are celebrating its return.
German-born Maren Biester Priebe, CEO of German American Events, says there have been many different shapes over the years: beer steins, kettles and winter hats with pompoms, but the boot seems to have a special place in the hearts of Chicagoans.
Have a Christmas list longer than Santa’s beard? With dozens of vendors selling everything from cuckoo clocks to nutcrackers to handmade ornaments, you’ll zip through it faster than you can say, “Bah, humbug.”
Keep up your shopping stamina by nibbling on German holiday delicacies like marzipan and heart-shaped gingerbread cookies.
If you’re lucky, you might just see Christkind herself, a fairylike being that, like Santa Claus, delivers Christmas gifts to good little boys and girls.
50 W. Washington St., through Dec. 24; christkindlmarket.com.
Christmas Around the World
What began at the Museum of Science and Industry during World War II with a single Christmas tree to show solidarity with the United Nations has grown into a virtual indoor forest of 50 trees representing holiday customs far and wide.
Families pose for photos in front of their favorites.
American kids are surprised to learn Dutch children don’t hang their stockings from the chimney with care; they get their treats in the wooden shoes they leave out for Sinterklaas. He arrives, not by a reindeer-pulled sleigh, but on a snowy white horse. The tree representing the Netherlands is adorned with painted wooden shoes.
The Croatian tree, with its traditional red and white, heart-shaped cookie dough ornaments, looks like it’s covered in valentines.
Paper birds roost in the Welsh tree to represent the ancient tradition of hunting a wren, considered the king of birds. It was customary to carry the tiny bird in a cage during holiday visits.
The piece de resistance is the 45-foot-tall Grand Tree in the copper-domed rotunda where surprise “snow” showers delight visitors.
5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, through Jan. 5; msichicago.org.
Christmas carolers demand figgy pudding. “And we won’t go until we get some, so bring some out here!”
Figgy pudding, whatever that is, is not forthcoming, but there’s an array of other sweet treats, including a chocolate yule log, chocolate cranberry pound cake and plump domes of red velvet cake at high tea at the Lobby restaurant in the Peninsula Chicago.
Savory delights are plentiful, too, like smoked salmon sandwiches topped with caviar and flaky spiced vegetable tarts.
Children who enjoy hosting pretend tea parties for dolls and stuffed animals are wowed by the real thing: tea service in the glow of a sparkling Christmas tree.
108 E. Superior St.; peninsula.com/en/chicago.
Baby, it’s cold outside, so Navy Pier brings the fun indoors with Winter WonderFest. In the summer, this amusement park on Lake Michigan is a hub of outdoor family entertainment, but when Jack Frost starts his nipping, it transforms into a wintry indoor playground.
Little ones hop aboard the Arctic Express Train Ride and travel through an enchanting holiday village, while older kids take a spin around the indoor skating rink or get on the Ferris wheel — which is enclosed and heated — for a bird’s-eye view of the action and the holiday lights.
Kids will leave with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads — the Sugar Plum aerialists, that is. These audacious performers twirl at lightning-speed from ribbons suspended from the ceiling and hold seemingly impossible poses.
The Sugar Plum aerialists perform at 3, 4 and 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays during the holiday season.
600 E. Grand Av.; Winter WonderFest runs through Jan. 12; navypier.org.
Know a little one who wants a pony for Christmas? Tell her it won’t fit in Santa’s sleigh, and take her to the annual ZooLights event at Lincoln Park Zoo instead. A glowing, rainbow-hued tunnel is a portal to whimsical, illuminated sculptures of zoo animals.
Of course, there are real animals, too. Surrounded by giant rabbits, monkeys, giraffes and zebras, she’ll soon forget the pony.
ZooLights runs from 4:30 to 9 p.m. nightly through Jan. 5, excluding Dec. 24 and 25.
2001 N. Clark St.; lpzoo.org.
Tracey Teo is an Indiana-based travel writer.