About the Town in December



By Philip Vidal



The season’s long dark nights are brightened by the many light festivals occurring throughout the city and suburbs.  Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, kicked things off on November 14.


“Lightscape,” hosted by Chicago Botanic Garden runs through January 3. Photo by Chicago Botanic Garden.


The festivities continue with local holiday light shows that you can enjoy in-person and outdoors. After its premier last year, “Lightscape” returns to the Chicago Botanic Garden, through January 3.  “Lightscape” is currently sold out, but check for availability.  The wildly popular “ZooLights” continues (most nights) through January 3 at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Except for five free nights, there’s a $5 charge.  Billed as “Chicago’s largest light festival,” the 39th annual “Holiday Magic” runs through December 31 at the Brookfield Zoo.  I mentioned Edith Rockefeller McCormick in my November column; she donated the land for the Brookfield Zoo.


Six Flags Great America’s “Holiday in the Park” light show will be held on select evenings through December 27. Photo by Six Flags Great America.


Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview steps into the game with its inaugural “Kohlights: A Mesmertastic Holiday Lightacular,” on select evenings from December 4 through January 3.  Six Flags Great America’s third “Holiday in the Park” light show in Gurnee runs on select evenings through December 27.  A sign of the times, this year’s “Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum“ is drive-through only, through January 3.   Please note that reservations are required for all of these light shows.


The Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, begins at sundown on December 10.  Virtual performances of “Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblin” are presented by Strawdog Theatre Company from December 5 to 20.


Another sign of the times, the Christkindlmarkets, normally held in Daley Plaza and outside Wrigley Field, are going online this year, through December 31.  A tradition for many in Chicago was a taste of mulled wine from that year’s collectable mug.  I don’t think you can get tasty and satisfying hot mulled wine online, but you can head to the Holiday Market in front of DMen Tap, 2849 W Belmont, through December 23.  Get food from the Donerman Food truck parked in front of the bar, and mulled wine to-go.  DMen Tap also expects to have vintage Christkindlmarket mugs for sale.  Find holiday items, gifts, and support local businesses at the 41st annual Winnetka/Northfield Red Invitation Holiday Sale on December 6.


Watch “The Nutcracker” snippets projected on Art on theMart throughout the month of December. Photo by Art on theMart.


Another holiday tradition is “The Nutcracker.”  While it won’t be possible to see the full-length live version indoors, there are lots of opportunities to enjoy this ballet.  Watch snippets from the Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” as they’re projected on the enormous façade of the former Merchandise Mart as part of Art on theMART, through December 30.  The Joffrey’s “The Nutcracker” is set during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Art on theMart also includes images of works from the “Monet and Chicago” and “Bisa Butler: Portraits” exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago (currently closed), and Arts of Life “City Heart Circle” – works of five artists with developmental and intellectual disabilities.


If you’d rather stay indoors, then watch “Making a New American Nutcracker,” the Emmy Award-winning 2017 PBS documentary hosted by actress Neve Campbell, streaming on Joffrey’s website from December 1 through 31.

Ballet Chicago presents virtual version of “The Nutcracker,” December 18-30. Photo by Ballet Chicago.


The annual Dance-Along Nutcracker® is normally held at the Chicago Cultural Center. This year the original Dance-Along Nutcracker® will be streamed for free by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, December 12 and 13.  Ballet Chicago will present virtual versions of “The Nutcracker” December 18 through 30.


The longest running production of “The Nutcracker” in Chicago is the Ruth Page Civic Ballet production.  Learn more about the history of this production by streaming the documentary “A Sugar Plum of a Tradition: Ruth Pages’ “The Nutcracker” Retrospective: Past, Present and Future,” through December 31.


Ruth Page Center for the Arts will host a virtual experience of “Visions: A Nutcracker Experience.” Photo by Ruth Page Center for the Arts.


Enjoy a socially-distanced tour entitled “Visions: A Nutcracker Experience,” that features live dancers  at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, December 4 through 20.


“The Ruffians’ Burning Bluebeard is available for streaming starting December 4. Photo by Michael Courier.


The Ruth Page Center for the Arts is also the home to Porchlight Music Theatre.   Since 2011, Porchlight has presented the highly acclaimed “The Ruffians’ Burning Bluebeard- Chicago’s Holiday Legend!,” inspired by a tragic event in Chicago history, the 1903 fire in the Benjamin Marshall-designed Iroquois Theatre.  The fire, during a holiday matinee of “Mr. Blue Beard,” killed 602.   Stream a performance of “Burning Bluebeard” from the 2019 run, from December 4 through January 3.  Also stream “Happy Holidays from Porchlight!” on December 11.  Porchlight’s talented stars sing holiday and seasonal favorites.


Another holiday tradition is attending a performance of Handel’s “The Messiah” in its many iterations.  I’ve enjoyed the Auditorium Theatre’s annual “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah.”  In its stead, the Auditorium presents a virtual “Holiday Concert with Alfreda Burke and Rodrick Dixon,” two stars from “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah,” December 4 through 31.  The duo, along with the Jo Ann Daugherty trio, were filmed singing Christmas carols, Hanukkah songs and holiday standards in the Adler and Sullivan-designed jewel-box known as Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University.


Join Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy and their seven children in Auditorium Theatre’s “A Celtic Family Christmas ‘At Home.'” Photo by Auditorium Theatre.


The Auditorium Theatre presents “A Celtic Family Christmas ‘At Home’”  December 12, with video replay available through December 31.  If you can’t join your extended family in-person at Christmas, join Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy and their seven children in their home as they share their holiday traditions through music and stories.


Watching Frank Capra’s classic 1947 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” has become a holiday tradition for many.  NBC features the movie on Christmas Eve.  In the same vein, American Blues Theatre celebrates their 20th annual production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!.”  This is the movie reimagined as a 1940s radio broadcast with songs.  Catch it on Zoom through January 2.


A holiday tradition for me is watching the 1951 British movie version of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.”  For over 43 years, the Goodman Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol”  has been a Chicago holiday favorite.   This year it morphs into an audio play from December 1 through 31, with special broadcasts on Christmas Eve and Christmas day on WBEZ 91.5 FM and Vocalo 91.1 FM.  I saw Manual Cinema’s brilliant multi-media adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” at Court Theater, which included shadow puppets and live actors.   Manual Cinema’s shadow puppet images are featured in the remake of the film “Candyman” that’s set in Chicago.  The opening of  “Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol,” their adaption of “A Christmas Carol, ” is also set in Chicago, and apropos of the times,  a Chicago under lockdown.  The virtual world premiere runs December 3 through 20.


Streaming December 1 through 27 is Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” Photo by Lookingglass Theatre.


Puppets are also a part of  Lookingglass Theatre Company’s Tony Award-winning production “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story.  My friend Doris Timmen highly recommends this annual holiday tradition, which will stream from December 1 through 27.


A close friend advised that we need to be gentle with ourselves and others during these challenging times.   It’s important to think of others and practice self-care.   Two local exhibitions pick-up on those themes.  “Upkeep: Everyday Strategies of Care” runs through March 20 at  the Arts Club of Chicago, and “Take Care” runs through March 21 at the Smart Museum of Art.


Have a happy and healthy holiday season!


Dates, times, locations and availability are subject to change.  Please stay healthy and safe and keep up with the latest COVID-19 information.