The Highwood skeletons are a good reminder that Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated throughout the Chicago area as a time to pay homage to and reunite family and friends who are still around with those who have passed on.
The Museum of Mexican Art is one place to go but another place, maybe unexpected, is Brookfield Zoo.
Sponsored by Chevrolet, the zoo’s celebration is Oct. 28-29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The zoo celebration ranges from face-painting (fees) and getting sugar skulls (while supplies last) to taking photos with the catrinas (traditional skeleton characters).
It may merely seem that swimming and filling the pail with lake water to build a giant sandcastle will las for at least another month but most Chicago-area beach towns will be sending their lifeguards back to school or wherever and swimming without them is not allowed.
The Chicago Park District site explains that “Swimming is permitted in designated swim areas at the beaches when lifeguards are on duty from 11 am – 7 pm daily. Swimming anywhere else along the lakefront is strictly prohibited and dangerous.”
The site notes that Chicago has 26 miles of free lake front and the beach season runs from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day. Other Lake Michigan towns are likely to have similar lifeguard rules but different price points and admission rules.
While it is still “Midsummer,” that sometimes mystical time of year around the Summer Solstice, go to the Grant Park Music Festival in Millenium Park to hear Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The concert, with Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra, is June 23 at 6:30 p.m. and June 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The concert is free for lawn sitters and asks for donations for reserved seats.
The Grant Park Music Festival is presented by the Grant Park Orchestral Association with support from the Chicago Park District and Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE). For programs and other information visit Grant Park Music Festival.
Back in Millennium Park, the Joffrey Ballet is holding a free, pre-perfomance dance class at 4:45 p.m. June 25. It is followed by a free program at 5:30 p.m. that features the Joffrey Company Artists, the Joffrey Academy and the Joffrey community Engagement Students. For more information visit Joffrey Ballet.
Plan now because it seems everything from tree lightings and light festivals are starting early this year.
Remember when we used to think the holiday season began with Chicago’s Thanksgiving Parade early on “Turkey Day?” Then the Mag Mile pre-empted that with Mickey and Minnie Mouse turning on Michigan Avenue’s lights north of the Chicago River, accompanied by Santa. Meanwhile, Macy’s was following Marshal Field’s tradition of a Great Tree, lunch in the Walnut Room and wonderful holiday windows.
Chicago area’s two big zoos soon added to the holiday places-to-visit calendar with lights and animation. More recently gardens and nature walks such as the Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Garden, got into the holiday spirit with color, lights and movement. Germany said, why not, so entered Chicago’s holiday season with the Christkindle Market.
Macy’s liked Marshal Field’s tradition so continue the Great Tree, lunch in the Walnut Room and wonderful, story-telling holiday windows.
Keeping track of what is around, when and where in the Chicago area can be challenging even when suburban and neighborhood residents mark their calendars with local tree lightings and events. So here is a short guide to the main holiday happenings.
Already started early November
Macy’s came out with their Great Tree Lighting, Santa visits, Walnut Room availability and windows theme the first week of November.
What to know: The Great Tree is 45 feet tall and is decorated on a toy-shop theme and is up through Jan. 8 2023. Santa Claus photo ops and wish whispers have to be reserved in advance. Santa is in his toy workshop on the Fifth Floor and reservations to visit him go through Dec. 24, 2022. The windows are already decorated and good for photos through Jan. 1, 2022. For reservations and more information visit Macy’s Holiday Celebrations: Visit Santa & More – 2022 (macys.com)
Macy’s is at 111 N State St., Chicago.
Second week in November
The switch went on and the last installation was done when Lightscape opened to Friends and Family at the Chicago Botanic Garden Nov. 9. Opened to the public (advance tickets needed) Nov. 11, Lightscape casts a fantasy vision over paths, trees, ponds and plantings with lights and music. It continues through Jan. 8, 2023. For tickets and more information visit Chicago Botanic/Lightscape.
Third week and weekend in November
This is a very busy time for holiday events ranging from the city’s tree lighting and a European holiday market to zoo lights and lit paths at an arboretum.
Go downtown for Chicago’s tree lighting Nov. 18 in Millenium Park. It’s scheduled for 6 p.m. with a pre-program at 5 p.m. The action is near Cloud Gate on the Grainger Stage. Visitors should enter at the South Promenade on Monroe Street east of Michigan Avenue. Don’t expect the lighting to happen until 6:30 but stay because fireworks follow the ceremony. For more information visit City of Chicago :: City of Chicago Christmas Tree
The German village-style Christkindl Market opens Nov. 18 a few blocks west of Millennium Park on Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St. A fun place to find gifts or take a yummy break from work or shopping, the Market is up through Dec. 24. For Chicago information visit Christkindlmarket | Holiday Market 2022 | Chicago
Lincoln Park Zoo spreads out just west of Lake Michigan between downtown Chicago and Wrigleyville so visitors sometimes try to couple its Zoolights with another holiday goodie. Presented by Com Ed with Invesco QQQ,, Zoolights is an impressive display at the city’s free zoo and costs only $5 a ticket for this holiday event. Zoo lights is Nov. 19, 2022 through Jan. 1, 2023. For hours, dates and more information visit ZooLights.
Also opening Jan 19 is the Morton Arboretum’s Illumination. Running through Jan. y7, 2023, Illumination transforms a mile long path among trees, meadow and gardens into a fairytale land of light, sound and color. The event combines old favorites such as the Enchanted Forest and Treeimagination, with new installations such as Late Nite Electric Illumination, tall, mirrored towers and a finale in the new Grand Garden. For more information visit Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum | The Morton Arboretum
Wait, as the commercials say: There’s more.
Last but not at all least this week is the Magnificent (Mag) Mile Lights Festival’s parade and day of activities starting at 11 a.m. at 401 N. Michigan Ave. Sponsored by Wintrust, the parade begins at 5:30 p.m. Mickey and Minnie Mouse (from the Walt Disney World Resort) lead the parade as they magically turn on one million lights along North Michigan Avenue.
What to expect: floats, helium balloons, marching bands, musical performances, Santa Claus ending with fireworks at the Chicago River. The event will also stream on Nov. 20 on ABC. For more information visit MagMileLights.
A giant helium balloon floats over State Street during a Chicago Thanksgiving Parade. (J Jacobs photo)
Fourth week and weekend in November
Chicago’s Thanksgiving Parade brings the sounds of cymbals, blares of trumpets and the sight of giant helium balloons and beautiful floats to State Street, that main street, Nov. 24.
The parade goes from Ida B Wells Drive at the south end to Randolph on the north. Figure that bands and entertainment from some of Chicago’s theaters could start as early as 8 a.m. and go to 11 a.m. For more information visit Chicago Thanksgiving Parade.
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo starts Nov. 25 and continues on specific dates through Dec. 31 from 3 to 9 p.m. Presented by ComEd and Meijer, the zoo is a blaze with two miles of lights and colors moving to synchronized music.A new feature is a 600-foot “Tunnel of Lights” by Xfinity.
Not all colors are outdoors at the Chicago Botanic Garden. While CBG is getting ready outdoors for its soon to be sold out holiday Lightscape, the Fine Art of Fiber has taken over the inside of the Regenstein Center.
Chicago Theater and Arts stopped for a sneak preview while it was setting up. Its impressive.
Extraordinary quilts, wall hangings and wearable fiber art such as shawls and jewelry, can be seen and items bought at the Art of Fiber show but it only goes Nov. 4-6, 2022. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more info visit Chicago Botanic Garden.
Penguins aren’t the only cute, playful animals capturing attention at the Shedd.
Its two new otters now have names. The Shedd’s Animal Care Team has named Otter 926 as Suri for California’s Big Sur coast line between Carmel and San Simeon.
Go to Brookfield Zoo operated by the Chicago Zoological Society in suburban Brookfield, IL for lots of animal sightings, but not for its seven bottlenose dolphins.
Beginning early November, the dolphins (along with their support staff) have taken up residence at the Minnesota Zoo for about seven months while Brookfield’s Seven Seas area is undergoing renovations.
Among the renovations is installation of a lift platform to allow quick adjustment to water depth, a new roof and a climate-controlled purifying system.
For more Brookfield Zoo info visit Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield.
Meanwhile, in the southwest suburb of Brookfield, female pygmy hippopotamus Banana, is getting acclimated to her new home in Brookfield Zoo’s Pachyderm House and can sometimes be seen outdoors on that building’s west side. (Smaller than the river hippo, the pygmy weighs between 350 and 600 pounds and can grow to about 5.75 feet long,)
Chicago’s warm (finally) weather this Memorial Day weekend is perfect for a day laughing at monkeyshines at two zoos or a pirate-ship sail along the city’s shoreline. (Zoo note: both zoos require masks at their indoor animal houses).
Visiting the 235 acre Brookfield Zoo can be an all-day family event.
Starting May 26, visitors can see the cute tapir calf just born to his mom, Sorghum. He has been staying indoors at the Pachyderm House but mom and baby might wander to their outdoor space on the north side of the building because the weather will be warm. Now is a good time to see the calf with his white stripes. The marking fade by age six months. The South American tapir is related to the horse and rhinoceros.
Beginning May 28, the Butterflies area, closed the past two years, has reopened and includes moths. Located near the North Gate, entry is $4 adults, $3.50 seniors 65 and older and $3 children. Visitors will be able to see the transformation to butterflies in an off-exhibit space.
While wandering the zoo, be on the lookout for such ice-age creatures as a 15 ft tall wooly mammoth and the 18 ft long mastodon. They are among Dino Dan’s 30 life-sized animatonic animals staying at the zoo April 1 through Oct. 30, 2022.
Brookfield Zoo entrances are at North Parking Lot 8400 31st St, and South Parking Lot 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, IL between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways. Current hours: 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
There are admission and parking costs. Tickets can be purchased ahead on line and are good for the entire day of entry. Adults $24.95, Seniors 65 and older $19.95, Children age 3-11 $17.95, age 2 and younger free. Parking is $15 and can be paid upon arrival.
*Visitors who have a general admission pass with a barcode, a member guest pass, a Chicago Public Library Museum Pass or a Museum Adventure Pass, can bring that to the zoo for entry, no reservation required.
At 49 acres, Lincoln Park Zoo is doable in half a day. Get a zoo map at the Visitor Center near the main entrance at 2400 N. Cannon Dr.
Time the visit to watch Seal Training at 11:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. near the main entrance . Then, be sure to visit the Pepper Family Wildlife Center.to see Pilipili, a recently born, African lion cub. His name means “pepper” in Swahili.
Lincoln Park Zoo is north of Chicago’s Magnificent (shopping) Mile.There are are several entrances with East gate near the paid parking lot being the main one. View the free parking map for all entrances. Current hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. The zoo is free and opened every day. For more information visit Lincoln Park Zoo.
Sail on Tall Ship Windy
For a different sailing experience, take a 75 minute trip along Chicago’s shoreline on Windy, a Tall Ship docked at Navy Pier. Listen to pirate and maritime stories.
Both Brookfield and Lincoln Park Zoos have upped the sparkle wattage with new light experiences. But with LED lights keeping cost down and ComEd on board as a co-sponsor for both holiday shows, what the popular destinations mention are estimates. Just expect more than one million lights.
In suburban Brookfield, IL wander among twinkling lights at Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic co-sponsored with ComEd by meijer.
The festival includes a new, two-mile Sea of Lights. But also take photos at a 41-foot-high magical tree and by an illuminated animal sculpture or as you approach the 600-foot Tunnel of Lights.
Just for fun, join in the Game of Gnomes to find 27 of these creatures at the zoo. Get a map of the zoo to help. All ages can play.
Zoo entry cost varies according to membership and age. As an example, rounded-off by five cents, a non-member senior 65 + may be about $20, an adult aged 12-64 is about $25 and a child age 3-11 is about $18. Skating rink usage is a $7 add on. Passes from a Chicago Library may discount the tickets. Parking may cost $15. Advance tickets needed.
Holiday Magic hours and dates: Friday through Sunday Nov. 26-28. Then Wednesday through Sunday, Dec. 8-12 and Dec.15-19. They end Sunday through Friday. Dec. 26-31. Hours are 3 to 9 p.m. Animal residences stay open through 8:30 p.m.
Brookfield Zoo has two gates: 8400 31st St. and 3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield, IL
Zooights turned on its more than a million lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo Nov. 19, 2021 and will keep them on during select nights through Jan. 2, 2022.
Explore a twisting path at the Light Maze where you wear a pair of 3D Holospex® glasses to up the glow. Also, every age is welcome at the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo section’s Enchanted Forest of butterflies, flowers and mushrooms.
See the zoo’s holiday tree at the recently redone Pepper Family Wildlife Center and do the Endangered Species Carousel and the Lionel Train Adventure through a sculpture garden and past whimsical animals.
Zoolioght entry is $5, free on Monday and Tuesday but there are additional charges of $3 per person at some of the sections and experiences. Advance tickets needed. Check the calendar for more program information.
The basic fee and extra charges help support the zoo’s animal care, global conservation efforts, and learning programs.
Thanks to a $15 million gift from Roxelyn and the late Richard Pepper, Lincoln Park Zoo broke ground on a $41 million renovation of their lion house in December 2019.
After being closed for about 2 years, the new Lion House opened in October 2021 and is home to a pride of lions that includes one male and four females. Rumor has it that locally born offspring may result.
The state-of-the-art habitat has been renamed the Pepper Family Wildlife Center, home not just to lions but also Canada lynx, snow leopards and red pandas.
Fans of the old Lion House will be happy to see the renovation was achieved to preserve and enhance the architecturally significant features of the historic structure built in 1912.
The dramatic entrances on either side bring a flood of natural light into the interior and the beautiful vintage vaulted ceiling has never looked better.
Small cages and cells with their archaic painted backgrounds are gone, replaced inside and out with expansive viewing windows for close-ups of the big cats.
The habitat has nearly doubled, now providing the lions with a variety of choices from plenty of outside fresh air and thermal comfort zones to trees for climbing, and elevated rocks to give them high vantage points plus areas to seek privacy, shade, and shelter.
A unique indoor design element known as the Lion Loop, funded by the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo, enables guests to view the pride even more intimately from the center of the habitat.
The $41 million renovation of the building is the final phase of what has been dubbed The Pride of Chicago, a $135 million capital campaign that began in 2012.
It was my good fortune to tag along with the Chicago Uptown Lions Club on a special tour conducted by Bill Green, accessibility and inclusion manager for the zoo.
About seventy-five percent of the Uptown Lion members are visually impaired. Thanks to a grant by the Hart Prinze Fund, special accommodations have been made to allow those with special needs to enjoy the experience.
Green outfitted our small group with wireless earpieces that allowed us to easily hear his commentary as we toured the Lion habitat inside and out while he creatively and thoroughly explained what was being shown so that those unable to see would understand what the rest of us were experiencing visually.
On several occasions there were tactile displays that allowed both the sighted and unsighted members of our group to feel the size of a lion paw, the impression of their print, the feeling of their fur or the rough texture of their tongues.
Inside the building Green produced a special three dimensional map of the African savannah that the visually impaired could run their fingers over to get a sense of the various distances a lion might travel and kinds of terrain they may encounter in their journey.
All-in-all the Pepper Family Wildlife Center and its inhabitants are indeed destined to be the Pride of Chicago and should definitely be on your things to do calendar in the Windy City.
If you haven’t been to the zoo lately you might like to know that there are a number of restaurants and cafés on the grounds and several more within a short walk.
The Lincoln Park Zoo can be approached by car at Fullerton and Cannon Drive just west of Lake Shore Drive. Parking is available and might be considered pricey by some but admission to the zoo is free. If you’re a little more adventurous street parking is available along Clark Street on the west side of the park and there are bus routes that include the zoo entrance.