The Midwest knows how to celebrate the holidays. In Chicago, many of the events planned during the holiday season center on jolly old St. Nick.
Santa and Mrs. Claus are the stars at the Brookfield Zoo, which you can’t miss due to nearly 1 million lights illuminating giant displays for Holiday Magic weekends. In addition to visiting with Santa, you can see ice-carving demonstrations, carol to the animals, enjoy live musical performances, watch a laser light show, meet costumed characters and check out a model railroad display and a talking 38-foot tree. At the zoo’s Oakbrook Center, visit the antique sleigh and polar bear display.
You won’t want to miss out on Christkindlmarket Chicago, a destination for people from around the world. Christkind is like a fairy-like creature from German folklore dating back to the 1500s. Like Santa in America, Christkind is the giver of gifts to children. Christkindlmarket Chicago was inspired by the one in Nuremberg, Germany, which started in 1545. It’s an open-air European market in Daley Plaza. You’ll find unique shopping, German food and drinks and plenty of holiday entertainment.
Another holiday favorite destination in Chicago is the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Lights. Fifty decorated trees represent various cultures and holiday traditions from around the world. The star of the display is the 45-food Grand Tree with more 1,000 ornaments and 30,000 lights.
Navy Pier gets in the holiday spirit with Winter WonderFest, where you can ice skate indoors, ride an indoor Ferris wheel and the Reindeer Express train, try the zip line or zip down the inflatable slide topped with artic creatures and enjoy live entertainment. Don’t miss out on the photo-op on the giant rocking Holiday Howdy Horse.
After a short drive from Chicago, you’ll find plenty of holiday events in Indianapolis, IN, starting the day of Thanksgiving with the lighting of the 242-foot tall Christmas tree made of garland at Monument Circle. A fun excursion is to ride a horse-drawn carriage around downtown during the holidays.
Christmas at the Zoo is a tradition in Indianapolis, the first zoo in the United States to hold a holiday lights event. Meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, stars of Santa’s Village, where you can write a letter to St. Nick or decorate a cookie before riding the Holiday Train and singing along with carolers.
For an old-fashioned holiday, check out Christmas at Connor Prairie. During Conner Prairie by Candlelight, you travel back in time about 175 years to Christmas Eve. You meet period characters in their homes and help them with holiday preparations, including the Ullmans who are celebrating Hanukkah. Conner Prairie also offers Dinner with Santa, check the website for dates and times. While you’re there, remember to go to the Gingerbread Village, where entries for the annual competition are on display.
Holland, MI, is another great holiday spot in the Midwest. Check out the Kerstmarkt, Dutch for “Christmas Market,” where you’ll find local artisans and shops selling their unique wares, plus Dutch food, drink and entertainment. In nearby Grand Rapids, Meijer Gardens is transformed into a magical winter wonderland with 300,000 lights, 40 international trees and displays, carolers and horse-drawn carriage rides. Train lovers will enjoy the Gardens Holiday Express train exhibit; it winds its way through three indoor gardens. Or ride on The Santa Train in Grand Rapids and join others on the 250-seat train for a 90-minute journey during which a princess reads The Polar Express by Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg, and elves escort each child to Santa for a visit.
Whether in Chicago or a short drive from the Windy City, there are plenty of holiday festivals and events to entertain you throughout the season.