About the Town in December





By Philip Vidal


I spoke of holiday traditions in my last column.  While growing up in the East Lake View neighborhood of Chicago, my family was flexible concerning holiday traditions.  There were no fixed dates when we trimmed the Christmas tree, nor when it came down.  We did not always attend the same Christmas Mass at our Lady of Mount Carmel on Belmont.  Sometimes we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve, and sometimes on Christmas Day.  We did not always have the same food for our Christmas dinner. 

Perhaps as a reaction to that, I created my own holiday traditions.   I would always buy a German Stollen, a dense sweet bread loaf filled with nuts, raisins and candied fruit, from the now long-gone House of Fine Chocolates on Broadway near Barry.  Stollen has been difficult to find in recent years, but fortunately Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter on Walton has one on offer during the holidays.  My most recent new holiday tradition is to purchase an Italian Panettone, which is like Stollen on steroids. 

Some families make a tradition of visiting the neighborhoods in Chicago and its suburbs that are famous for the homes decorated with lights.  Residential light displays have gone from simple colored incandescent lights to lasers and video projections.  I mentioned the Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights outdoor light display in my November column.  The Brookfield Zoo has its own outdoor light festival, Holiday Magic, which is in its 35th year, December 3-4, 10-11, 17-18 and 26-31, czs.org.  The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, too, has a fantastic outdoor light display, Illumination.  In one of the displays, lights twinkle to excerpts from “The Nutcracker.”  Tickets are limited and advance purchase is recommended, through January 2, 2017, mortonarb.org.

There will be many renditions of the “The Nutcracker” this season around Chicago.  Tickets went on sale in April for the highly-anticipated world premiere of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s new take on “The Nutcracker” for the Joffrey Ballet.  Instead of 19th century Germany, the ballet is set in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, December 10-30 at the Auditorium Theatre, joffrey.org/nutcracker.  The Salt Creek Ballet will perform “The Nutcracker” at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, December 10 and 11, NorthShoreCenter.org

The Von Heidecke Chicago Festival Ballet will perform “The Nutcracker” with live orchestral accompaniment at the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, December 17 and 18, atthemac.org.  For an updated version, check out “The Hip-Hop Nutcracker” at the Rosemont Theater on December 9, Rosemont.com.  The House Theatre’s version of “The Nutcracker” at the Chopin Theatre is ballet and hip-hop free, but focuses on the story itself and includes a live orchestra and puppets.  It runs through December 30, thehousetheatre.com.  “The Second City’s Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue” is at the Copley Theatre, Aurora, from December 2-23 (Thursdays – Sundays), paramountaurora.com.

Two classic holiday movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story,” have been re-imagined.  American Blues Theater’s “It’s a Wonderful Life – Live in Chicago!” recreates a 1940’s radio broadcast along with original music at the Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago, through December 31, AmericanBluesTheater.com.  “A Christmas Story:  The Musical” runs through December 18 at the Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest, citadeltheatre.org/plays-events/Christmas-story-musical.

As a Jane Austen fan, I want to see the new holiday spin on her classic novel Pride and Prejudice.  The world premiere of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s sequel “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is at Northlight Theatre in Skokie through December 18, northlight.org.  The Goodman Theatre presents The Second City production of “Twist Your Dickens” by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, December 2-30, GoodmanTheatre.org.   

The Art Institute does a terrific job celebrating the holidays.  The Art Institute’s Auxiliary Board hosts the 35th Annual Holiday Treasure Hunt and Tea Party, Sunday, December 11, artic.edu/treasurehunt.  The two bronze lions outside the museum are decked out with wreathes and big red bows around their necks.  The Thorne Rooms are decorated for the holidays, through January 8.  The enormous 18th century Neapolitan crèche will be on display through January 8, artic.edu. 

What are the holidays without seasonal songs?  Stop by the Art Institute’s Woman’s Board Grand Staircase to hear local high school choirs sing songs of the season, December 5-9, artic.edu/calendar.

Every year I try to hear the Music of the Baroque’s Holiday Brass and Choral Concert at St. Michael’s Church in Old Town, which was my grandparents’ church in the 1920-40s.  This year the concert is on December 16.  Other performances are on December 15, 17 and 18 in Northbrook and River Forest, go to www.baroque.org for locations and times.  I also try to hear Chanticleer, the “world’s reigning male chorus” (The New Yorker), when they perform “A Chanticleer Christmas.”  They return to Fourth Presbyterian Church on December 6 and 7, CSO.ORG/holidays.  The Vienna Boys Choir performs “Christmas in Vienna” at Symphony Center on December 20.  The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s “Merry, Merry Chicago!” concerts are December 16 to 23 and feature Broadway star Ashley Brown and the Chicago Children’s Choir, which just celebrated its 60th season, CSO.ORG/holidays.  Certainly a highlight of the holiday season is hearing The Great Lakes Dredge and Philharmonic Society sing Christmas carols at a private club or other venues around town.  Chicago a capella’s concerts, “Holidays a capella:  Tales and Legends,” are at various locations and times on December 4, 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18, go to chicagoacapella.org.  Bella Voce’s holiday concerts are December 17 at St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle and December 18 at the Arts Center of Oak Park, BellaVoce.Tix.com.  I regrettably missed both of Bella Voce’s performances of Handel’s “Messiah” last month, but hope to hear one of the Apollo Chorus’s performances at the Harris Theater on December 10 or 11, harristheaterchicago.org. 

If you are looking for things to do in the Loop, go to loopchicago.com/holidays for family itineraries, a map of holiday destinations, and more.  The Chicago Loop Alliance is sponsoring a campaign, #UnwrapTheLoop, through December 24.  Anyone who tags a holiday-themed downtown Chicago social media post (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) with #UnwrapTheLoop will automatically be entered to win a prize from participating cultural attractions. 

December is not a hospitable month to open a boathouse, but a fourth boathouse designed by Studio Gang will open on the Chicago River in Bridgeport this month.  I used to row in younger days, but seemed to have issues staying in the boat.  Fortunately I did master getting back into the scull, which is no easy feat. 

Congratulations to Joel Oppenheimer, Inc., an art gallery specializing in works by natural history artists, particularly John James Audubon.  On December 1 the gallery moves from one historic structure, The Wrigley Building, to another, The Tree Studios at 10 East Ohio, audubonart.com.

While traveling throughout Chicago, I have noticed that there are a lot of construction cranes around the city.  Indeed, currently there are more cranes in Chicago than there were even in 2008.  I have seen Christmas trees on top of a number of those cranes.  I always thought how festive they were way up there in the sky, but learned just recently that means the building has been topped out. 

When my sisters and I were old enough to stay at home alone, my parents would attend New Year’s Eve parties.  My sisters and I would hold our own New Year’s Eve party by breaking out the crystal Champagne coupes and ginger ale.  We would pretend we were swells drinking Champagne while watching the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals that WGN-Channel 9 aired for many years on New Year’s Eve.  We were careful to return all of the Champagne glasses before our parents came home.   A happy and healthy New Year to all!