By Philip Vidal
I mentioned to my editor Judy Bross that my column for December is both easy and challenging to write because there are so many events this month, and it’s so difficult to choose what to include and what to omit. Which of the many performances of “The Nutcracker” and “Messiah” do I include without creating a list? You will see how I have resolved this dilemma as I focus on holiday traditions, near and far.
As a native Chicagoan, I’m embarrassed that I’ve never been to the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Christmas Around the World” exhibition (through January 8), which is celebrating its 80th anniversary. The exhibition features 50 trees and displays representing holiday traditions from around the globe. This is now on my “must do” list.
Old Town School of Folk Music presents “Irish Christmas in America” on December 3. Photo courtesy of Old Town School of Folk Music.
There are also other opportunities to explore holiday traditions from around the world. The Old Town School of Folk Music hosts “Irish Christmas in America” on December 3. “Celtic Woman: A Holiday Symphony” concert comes to the Auditorium Theatre on December 11.
The St. Lucia Day Festival of Lights on December 13 marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia. The Andersonville neighborhood harkens back to its Scandinavian roots with the traditional St. Lucia candlelit procession up Clark Street from the Swedish American Museum at 4:45 p.m. followed by a performance. The final St. Lucia procession with songs and readings is at St. Ebenezer Lutheran Church at 7:00 p.m.
Avoid the cold Chicago weather and get your German Christmas mar with Weihnachtsmarkt on December 10. Photo by DANK Haus German American Cultural Center.
German Christmas markets are traditionally outdoors. This year, Chicagoland’s outdoor Christkindlmarkets run through December 24 at Daley Plaza and Aurora’s RiverEdge Park, and through December 31 at Wrigleyville’s Gallagher Way. But Chicago’s weather can be dreadful in December, so for something more intimate, indoors and warm, try the Weihnachtsmarkt, the German Christmas market at DANK Haus German American Cultural Center on December 10.
Enjoy mariachi music this holiday season with Mariachi Herencia de México’s “A Very Merry Christmas Concert,” December 16-18. Photo by Old Town School of Folk Music.
Music is an integral part of holiday traditions. The Newberry Consort performs “A Mexican Christmas” with a program of 17th century Mexican Christmas music at Evanston’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on December 9, Lakeview’s St. Alphonsus Church on December 10, and Little Village’s Mother of Americas Catholic Church on December 11. Mariachi Herencia de México brings its “A Very Merry Christmas Concert” to the Old Town School of Folk Music December 16-17, and to Thalia Hall on December 18.
What would the holidays be without singing? The William Ferris Chorale opens its 50th season with their “Spiraling Ecstatically” concert on December 2 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (my former parish church) and at Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park on December 3. The Chicago Chorale performs “A Chicago Chorale Christmas” concert on December 10 at St. Michael’s Church in Old Town and on December 11 at the Hyde Park Union Church.
Celebrating 18 years of a totally reinvented rendition of Handel’s “Messiah” its the Auditorium Theatre’s “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah.” Photo courtesy of Kristie Kahns by Auditorium Theatre.
For a different spin on Handel’s “Messiah,” check out the “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah” concert at the Auditorium Theatre December 3-4. For something more traditional, Chicago’s Apollo Chorus, celebrating its 151st season, performs Handel’s “Messiah” at the Harris Theater, December 10-11.
“The Spirit of the Season” concert from a cappella group Voctave hits the stage at McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn on December 11. Photo by McAninch Arts Center.
The a cappella group Voctave bring its “The Spirit of the Season” concert to the McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn on December 11. Our own Chicago a cappella brings their “Holidays a cappella” concert to Oak Park on December 4, Fourth Presbyterian on December 9, Naperville on December 17, and Evanston on December 18. The group performs “Hanukkah a cappella” in Hyde Park on December 10 and in Wilmette on December 11.
Former Chicago Tribune reporters Mary Schmich and Eric Zorn host the wildly popular 24th annual “Songs of Good Cheer” sing-a-long at the Old Town School of Music December 9-11. I mentioned in my “Chicago Movie Theater Memories – Part Two” article for this magazine how much fun I had attending the Music Box Theatre’s “The Sound of Music Sing-a-Long” a few years ago. It’s back at the Music Box December 3-4. If you’d rather have the actors do the singing, head to Aurora’s Paramount Theatre for their production of “The Sound of Music” through January 15.
Enjoy the music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” presented by Chicago Jazz Orchestra’s Brandon Goldberg Trio at Studebaker Theatre, December 4. Photo by Chicago Jazz Orchestra.
One of my Christmas traditions is to watch the animated holiday classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The Chicago Jazz Orchestra featuring the Brandon Goldberg Trio (Goldberg is a 17-year-old piano prodigy) perform “A Musical Tribute to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’” on December 4 at the Studebaker Theatre.
The Queens of Christmas return for an evening filled with laughs and annual favorites at their “The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Show” at the Auditorium Theatre on December 7. Photo by Auditorium Theatre.
Seeing a performance of “The Nutcracker” is a joyful holiday tradition for many. The most popular is the Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” set in Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. It’s back at the Joffrey’s new home, the Lyric Opera House, through December 27. For a new take on a holiday dance performance, Black Girls Dance’s “Mary, A Holiday Dansical” is back this year at the Reva and David Logan Center in Hyde Park on December 18. The Queens of Christmas return to Chicago to perform their “The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Show” at the Auditorium Theatre on December 7.
Another of my Christmas traditions is to watch the 1951 film version of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.” There are many performances of “A Christmas Carol” this season, but I want to see “Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” at Glencoe’s Writers Theatre through December 24. It was virtual in 2020 and 2021 and this is the first year that it will be live. I’ve seen some of Manual Cinema’s other works and they’re always brilliant.
Now through January 8 is Lookingglass Theatre Company’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” Photo by Liz Lauren for Lookingglass Theatre Company.
Again, for a different take on Jane Austen, and with a holiday twist, Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s “Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley” runs through December 24 at Northlight Theatre at North Shore Center in Skokie. Adapted from the Hans Christian Anderson story, Lookingglass Theatre Company’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” is a holiday tradition for many, including my good friend Doris Timmen, who has emphatically said I must see it. It runs through January 8 at Lookingglass Theatre Company in the historic Water Tower Water Works.
Many holiday traditions revolve around lights during the dark days of winter. Concurrent with the “Christmas Around the World” exhibition, the Museum of Science and Industry presents the “Holiday of Light” exhibition through January 8 that explores the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, St. Lucia’s Day and many more.
So many holiday lights across the city! “Lightscape” at the Chicago Botanic Garden features artistic works to enjoy with the entire family. Photo by Chicago Botanic Garden.
My grandparents lived in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood. When we’d visit them at Christmas our idea of a light show was to drive through certain sections of Lincolnwood that were famous for the homes’ elaborate Christmas lights and decorations. Now we really have light shows and they too create traffic jams. Lincoln Park Zoo’s ”ZooLights” runs through January 1. Billed as “Chicagoland’s longest-running light festival” Brookfield Zoo’s “Holiday Magic” runs through December 31. Other spectacular light shows are “Lightscape” through January 8 at the Chicago Botanic Garden; “Kohlights: A Mesmertastic Holiday Lightspectacular” through December 29 at the Kohl’s Children’s Museum; and “Illumination: Tree Lights” through January 7 at the Morton Arboretum, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Billed as Chicago’s largest, indoor, light experience, “Light up the Lake” continues through January 7 at Navy Pier.
Two concerts this month aren’t really holiday related, but do feature traditional music. On December 4, the world’s top violinist Itzhak Perlman performs traditional klezmer music at Symphony Center in “Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler’s House.” Soprano Patricia Racette and pianist Craig Terry perform “Patricia Sings Piaf” featuring the traditional French chansons of Edith Piaf on December 8 at the Harris Theater. Definitely not traditional music, Third Coast Percussion performs three world premieres during their “Rituals and Meditations” concert at the DePaul School of Music’s Holtschneider Performance Center on December 7.
When I was growing up, it was a family tradition for me and my two sisters to receive a single board game for Christmas. I think my parent’s goal was to see us all amiably rolling the dice and taking our turns. But instead of family bliss and comradery, I think it actually inspired sibling rivalry.
Notwithstanding the occasional competition, my sisters and I could actually cooperate and built spectacular indoor and outdoor forts. Filament Theatre’s “Forts!” through January 8 recalls for me that time and is an immersive and interactive experience for children and their parents.
Support local and global small businesses at the Chicago Fair Trade Holiday Pop-Up Shop in Lincoln Park, through December 24. Photo by Chicago Fair Trade.
Love it or hate it, a gift is a holiday tradition, but a few shows, sales, fairs, and pop-up shops around town make gift giving a bit easier. The 21st annual One of a Kind Holiday Show+Sale Chicago at TheMART, December 1-4 features five-hundred artists and craftspeople offering their wares. The Renegade Craft Fair is back this year at Morgan Manufacturing, December 17-18. Shop locally at the 43rd annual Winnetka/Northfield/Glencoe Red Invitation Holiday Sale on December 4. Shop locally and globally at the Chicago Fair Trade Holiday Pop-Up Shop in Lincoln Park, through December 24.
My favorite holiday tradition revolves around food… particularly desserts. In “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” visions of sugar plums danced in the children’s heads. I dream of bûche de Noël, stollen, panettone, plum pudding, Christmas cookies, gingerbread and even the much-maligned fruitcake. I had my first piece of holiday stollen last week and it was delightful. My wish to you is that your holidays give you as much pleasure!
Dates, times, locations and availability are subject to change. Please stay healthy and safe and keep up with the latest COVID-19 information, protocols, mandates and guidelines.