As 5 o’clock nears, the crowd in Daley Plaza grows as thick as a North Woods forest. Vendors at the open-air Christkindlmarket tout their wares—Polish pottery, hand-knitted parkas, soaps made with honey—to their captive audience on this night before Thanksgiving. Chicago’s annual Christmas tree lighting is just minutes away, and until then, anyone who was strolling among the dozens of vendors basically gets stuck. TV trucks prep for live shots. A helicopter hovers, its chop drowned out by the crowd’s chatter. Claustrophobia sets in, and I can’t help but think, Why did I want to come here for Thanksgiving?
Then, across the street, the clock on the 568-foot Chicago Temple tolls.
One. Two. The crowd hushes. Three. Four. Hundreds of cell phones reach above the throng, trained on the darkened 55-foot Colorado spruce. Five.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel flips a switch, lighting the vertical strands of red, white and green lights and marking the 97th year Chicago has carried out this tradition. Cheers roll through the Loop like a summer wave on nearby Lake Michigan. Eventually, I can move as people funnel through the streets in search of dinner.
Click ahead to read about the rest of our trip, to see our list of the top 10 holiday stops in Chicago and to browse our trip guide.