About the Town in December



By Philip Vidal




Thousands of motorcycle riders unite to ride together and donate toys for needy children in the 46th Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade on December 3. Photo by Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade.


December opens with the 46th Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade on Western Avenue on December 3, billed as “The World’s Largest Motorcycle Parade.” Thousands of riders, many of them in holiday attire and with their bikes decorated for the holidays, ride together and donate toys for needy children.  The Chicagoland Toys for Tots program also has drop boxes for toys located around the city and suburbs.


No question that December is a special time for stories – family holiday stories, stories about Christmas, Hannukah, St. Lucia Day and Kwanzaa.  Some holiday stories are evergreen and ever popular.


A spin on the traditional “The Nutcracker” featuring tap, acro dance and more! The Hyde Park School of Dance has their annual presentation at Mandell Hall on the University of Chicago campus, December 8-10. Photo by Marc Monaghan.


“The Nutcracker” is a perennially popular story.  There are dozens of “The Nutcracker” productions in the Chicago area, but two warrant special attention.  The Hyde Park School of Dance is celebrating its 30th anniversary season.  Their production of “The Nutcracker” runs December 8-10 at the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall.   A jazz version, set in 1930s Harlem, entitled “Sugar Hill: The Ellington/Strayhorn Nutcracker,” comes to the Auditorium Theatre December 20-30.


Named one of Chicago Tribune’s Top Shows of 2022, “Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” returns for the holiday season at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe through Christmas Eve. Photo by Writers Theatre.


Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a classic and much beloved holiday story.  “Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol” at Writers Theatre in Glencoe through December 24 uses film, music, puppetry, and storytelling to convey messages of compassion, generosity and redemption.


Händel’s “Messiah” tells the stories of Christ’s birth, his death and resurrection, and our redemption.  It’s one of the most popular pieces of choral music and is a holiday favorite, with renditions performed all over the city and suburbs. The aria for soprano “I know that my Redeemer liveth” is one of my favorites.  The Apollo Chorus of Chicago, founded in 1872, performs “Messiah” at Holy Name Cathedral on December 9 and at Evanston’s Alice Millar Chapel on December 10.


Join in on the inaugural performance of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!” as American Blues Theater settles into their new permanent home on 5627 N Lincoln Ave, December 8-31. Photo by Michael Brosilow.


The opening of American Blues Theater’s new home at 5627 N Lincoln Avenue coincides with their 22nd annual production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!,” December 8-31.  Based on O. Henry’s classic story of gift-giving, “The Gift of the Magi” runs through December 30 at Oil Lamp Theater in Glenview.  I saw the charming holiday musical “The Christmas Schooner” many years ago when it premiered at the long-gone Bailiwick Repertory Theatre.  It’s based on the true story about a ‘Christmas tree’ schooner that braved Lake Michigan in December to bring the first evergreen trees to Chicago’s German immigrants in the 19th century.  I’m glad that it’s back at the Beverly Arts Center’s Baffes Theater, December 15-23.


The magical musical “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” will play at Drury Lane Theatre, now through January 7, 2024. Photo by Brett Beiner.


The “Cinderella” story is having a moment with three very different renditions.  Drury Lane Theatre’s production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” running through January 7, 2024, has received terrific reviews.  It’s the 47th anniversary of Jackie Taylor’s holiday classic “The Other Cinderella,” which runs December 3-January 14, 2024, at Uptown’s Black Ensemble Theater.  Rossini’s “Cinderella” opens January 21 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.


Catch a performance of the Pre-Broadway Chicago Premiere of “The Wiz,” through December 10. Photo by Broadway in Chicago.


L. Frank Baum penned his first “Oz” book in Chicago in 1900. More than a century later, the pre-Broadway Chicago premiere of “The Wiz,” based on Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” runs through December 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.


Direct from its successful New York City run, “Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” makes its way to the Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building through the end of the year. Photo by Michael Brosilow.


Adapted from Jim Henson’s adored 1977 TV holiday special “Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” continues through December 31 at the recently renovated Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building.


Telling a story literally saves the holiday in the musical “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” presented by Strawdog Theatre Company in partnership with the Chicago Loop Synagogue, December 3-23.  When a troupe of traveling actors comes to a town that does not celebrate Hanukkah, to save the holiday, the itinerant actors tell the tale of Hershel of Ostropol and his quest to outwit the goblins who haunt the old synagogue.


David Payne returns with “Christmas with C.S. Lewis” at Water Tower Place, December 5-10. Photo by Broadway in Chicago.


C.S. Lewis, the British novelist, scholar and Anglican theologian died 60 years ago on November 22, 1963, but his novels, like “The Chronicles of Narnia,” still enchant readers.  David Payne returns to the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, December 5-10, in “Christmas with C.S. Lewis.”


Celebrate the evening of Friday, December 8 with “Wassail! An Irish-Appalachian Christmas.” Photo by Apollo Fire’s Baroque Orchestra.


Friends and family get together on Christmas night in Ireland in 1849 for an evening of storytelling, music, and wassail in Apollo Fire’s “Wassail! An Irish-Appalachian Christmas,” in two shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago’s Edlis Neeson Theater on December 8.


Prohibition was repealed in the United States 90 years ago on December 5, 1933, just before Christmas.  I can only imagine how wassail and glühwein, as well as other alcoholic beverages, must have flowed during the 1933 Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The glühwein will certainly flow  this year at the Christkindlmarkets in Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville and Aurora, as well as the annual Weihnachtsmarkt at the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center on December 9.  The indoor German Christmas market features German music and food, and shopping.


Cheers to creativity and togetherness at the 22nd annual One of a Kind Holiday Show + Sale at The Mart, December 7-10. Photo by One of a Kind Show and Sale.


There are many opportunities to support local businesses, artists and artisans during the holiday shopping season.   The Hyde Park Art Center’s annual Holiday School & Studio Sale + Fundraiser through December 17, features ceramics, paintings, and textiles all made by hand. The 22nd annual One of a Kind Holiday Show + Sale at THE MART is December 7-10.  For a different kind of holiday market, head to the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel on December 8-9 for the Sauced Night Market before Xmas, featuring all-local goods, as well as a DJ.


Located in the Chicago Cultural Center supporting and showcasing local artists, Buddy features items from 300+ artists and artisans. Photo by Buddy.


The Driehaus Museum Store Trunk Show on December 16 features vendors selling vintage clothing, jewelry and other items.  More than 170 artists and artisans will sell their work and goods at the Renegade Craft fair at Morgan Manufacturing December 16-17. The Chicago Artisan Market® Holiday Market is December 16-17 at the Artifacts Events Building in Ravenswood.  More than twenty-five Chicago artists display their one-of-a-kind items at the Chicago Architecture Center’s Archetypes: A  Designed Object Pop-Up Shop and gallery through January 7, 2024.  Goods from over thirty locally owned businesses that work with artisans from around the world are at the 10th annual Chicago Fair Trade Holiday Pop-Up Shop at 2352 N Clark through December 23.  Buddy, a shop in the Chicago Cultural Center, features artwork, jewelry, clothing, stationery and toys made by over 300 local artists and artisans.


December ends on a high note:  Delmark Records, the oldest continuously operating blues and jazz label in the world, continues its 70th anniversary celebration with the Delmark Blues and Jazz All-Stars Holiday Concert at Thalia Hall on December 20.  Chicago-born “punk poet laureate” Patti Smith and her band make their debut at The Salt Shed on December 27.


Happy Holidays!


Dates, times, locations and availability are subject to change.