Thanksgiving in Chicago | Midwest Living

Thanksgiving in Chicago

A parade. A carriage ride. A lavish buffet at a historic hotel. A hip condo and caroling. Celebrating Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago means breaking from our home for the holiday traditions—and making memories that last for years.


Carriage rides wind past the Water Tower.
+ enlarge
The Art Institute of Chicago’s south lion.
+ enlarge

A happy postdinner

Drowsiness sets in as we continue our Thanksgiving football-watching tradition, laying around in the condo until darkness falls. Then we bundle up and walk the 11 blocks to the Magnificent Mile. White lights ring the trees along Pearson Street, where patrons holding cups of hot cocoa spill out of Ghiradelli and climb into carriages for rides through the tony Gold Coast. As the horses wind past Chicago’s old limestone water tower, the simple clip-clop of hooves gives the neighborhood’s trendy boutiques a historic veneer.  

The next morning, we watch as workers climb scaffolding to hang bushy evergreen wreaths around the lions guarding the Art Institute of Chicago. Hundreds of art lovers pack the sidewalk, cameras in hand, to snap the moment, while a gospel choir sings praise on the front steps. Created for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the bronze lions stand outside of the South Michigan Avenue entrance. We funnel inside and make our way to the Art Institute’s Ryan Education Center, where families already have settled at tables to make art inspired by the amazing collection. 

Mike and Lisa Shydlowski bring their three children to the Wreathing of the Lions every year, carrying on a tradition that started when Mike was a kid and his family decorated their replica lion bookends with wreaths. Today, alongside us, they make tissue paper wreaths patterned after Marc Chagall’s cerulean stained-glass windows and talk about their plans to see the Zoo Lights in Lincoln Park and go ice-skating in Millennium Park. “I didn’t have any of these things growing up in a small town,” Lisa says. “I like getting our kids excited for what they have here. The city has so much to offer.”

She has a point

In Chicago, fans of The Polar Express didn’t just watch the movie’s hot chocolate scene last year; they breathed in cocoa at the John G. Shedd Aquarium, which shows 4-D movies. Sign up for a holiday breakfast so that you can skip the Shedd’s long line by arriving before the attraction opens to the public.

We find a counterbalance to the Shedd’s energy on Friday night at Cloud Gate, the bean-shape sculpture in Millennium Park. Luminarias in paper bags outline a “stage” in front of the Bean where a choir stands. Nearly 1,000 visitors grow quiet as the conductor raises his baton. It takes only a few bars of a simple carol written in an Austrian church nearly 200 years ago to create a sense of peace over the throng. We sing “Silent Night,” and our memories of holidays past blend with the ones we’re making right now.


Comments (1)

lbelcher25044 wrote:
Christmas in Chicago is truly an old fashioned Christmas experience!

Add Your Comment