The best places to see and be seen with Santa in Chicago

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

Adults may dream of a white Christmas, but for many kids, the holiday evokes another color altogether as a trip to see the old man in red is almost compulsory. Luckily, children in and around the downtown area have plenty of options:

Water Tower Place

The shopping’s never been better at Water Tower Place, a Mag Mile institution, and this year just as in years past, Santa will be around to meet with kids and pets. Reservations are encouraged to avoid a wait and there are various theme nights—like pajama night—so be sure to scroll through the options to get the perfect fit. To find the best night for your schedule and to make a reservation, check www.celebrateyourholiday.com

The Driehaus Museum

This popular destination has added Sunday dates for Santa. Kids under 2 are free, tickets for kids up to 12 are $15 and adult tickets are $20. The tickets include activities like sing-a-longs, story times and family fun. Anyone interested should get tickets as soon as possible, as several dates have already sold out. For more information, check the museum website at http://driehausmuseum.org

Soldier Field Breakfast with Santa

For a full morning with the big man, why not sign up for breakfast with Santa at Soldier Field on Dec. 8? Adult tickets are $50, $25 for kids ages 4-12 and free for younger kids. The tickets include a train display, an ornament contest and a cookie decorating area for children. This event includes a toy drive, so be sure and bring a new, unopened gift for a child in need. For more information, call (312) 235-7063 or email SoldierFieldBistro@aramark.com

Shedd Aquarium Breakfast with Santa

The Shedd Aquarium is offering a full morning of fun with Santa every weekend leading up to Christmas. Ticket prices vary for members and non-members, but the event includes breakfast, crafts, a Polar Express train ride and parade, an aquatic presentation and more. For more information, visit www.sheddaquarium.org/

Macy’s State Street Santa Events

Breakfast no good? Well, Macy’s has the solution for parents who want more options. The State Street department store is offering breakfast, lunch and/or dinner to folks who need some variety in scheduling time to visit Father Christmas. The events run through the month. For more information, visit http://macysrestaurants.com

Skate with Santa at Maggie Daley Park

Anyone who wants to get the kids out and about could do worse than this free opportunity to get the kids out on the ice with Santa at Maggie Daley Park in the heart of the New Eastside. On Dec. 16, from 10 a.m. to noon, kids can lace up and hold hands with the jolly red elf. For more information, visit www.chicagoparkdistrict.com

Swissotel’s Santa Suite

The hotel admits their newly-renovated Santa Suite is over the top, so expect to be wowed on the 41st floor by sights, sounds and decorations. The suite is open through Dec. 23 and tickets begin at $15 for individuals, and family packs can be had for $40. For more information, visit www.swissotel.com

Other places to find Santa

If you still can’t get enough Santa, follow the merry fellow as he travels through Chicagoland and beyond. This month, Santa will be visiting a number of nearby suburbs, and families can visit him in a variety of places. For more information, check out www.santainchicago.com

Cloud Gate choirs set the soundtrack to the season

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

The Christmas season means cold weather, good family, friends, warm wishes and…music.

No matter the age, the political bent or, heck, even the religious beliefs of so many people, classic Christmas songs like “Silent Night” and “White Christmas” still strike a chord. In Chicago, these songs—as well as more modern fare—are best heard by the Bean, or Cloud Gate, in Millennium Park as part of the city’s annual Caroling at Cloud Gate program.

“I would just say Chicago is a fabulous city with so many fantastic artistic opportunities,” said Kayleigh Dudevoir. “Just go. It’s really fun to introduce yourself to music that’s less accessible and to learn more about what the city has to offer.”

Dudevoir should know—she is the executive director of the Chicago Chamber Choir, the group slated to perform at Cloud Gate Dec. 7. She offered a peek behind the scenes of the choir circuit, and she said her choir has been busy preparing for months. “Usually our official season begins in October, but we get Christmas requests as soon as mid-November,” she said.

This month at Cloud Gate, Dudevoir said guests can expect to hear a mix of Christmas music.

“Some traditional Christmas carols like ‘Silent Night,’ ‘Deck the Halls’ and so on, as well as Christmas-themed but not traditional carols” will be sung in the park, she said.

Dudevoir said the choir has been performing at Cloud Gate for several years—it’s her sixth season with the group—and she said it’s always enjoyable for the choir and for the attendees. “We’ve done a number of performances there and there are always lots of children,” she said.

Guests will bring hot chocolate to sip while they listen and, Dudevoir said, if it’s not too terribly cold, the choir tries to wear festive sweaters, so it’s not so formal.

The city invites folks to hear some of the best choirs in the city perform Christmas carols for free at Cloud Gate.

The Chicago Chamber Choir will kick off the December Cloud Gate events on Dec. 7. All performances begin at 6 p.m. and wrap up by 7 p.m. Admission is free. The other performances will be Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 at the same times. To check out the Chicago Chamber Choir, its website, www.chicagochamberchoir.org/season, includes all upcoming dates.

The Walnut Room adds a dash of magic to any meal

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

 

What’s it like to dine in the Walnut Room during the holidays? Whether it’s your first time setting foot in the elegant 17,000 square-foot dining room located on the seventh floor of Macy’s Department Store on State Street, or you’re a seasoned veteran, a visit there will put you right in the holiday spirit.

The Walnut Room opened in 1905 and has become a cherished landmark in Chicago. Come holiday time, the Walnut Room is transformed into a festive wonderland with the famed 45-foot Great Tree as the centerpiece. Suspended from the ceiling, the iconic Great Tree is adorned with more than 2,000 ornaments and features thousands of sparkling lights.

“Dining in the Walnut Room during the holidays is a beloved Chicago tradition,” said Carolyn Ng Cohen, Director of Media Relations at Macy’s. “With already plenty of magic in the air inside Macy’s Walnut Room, princess fairies can make it even more special for believers of all ages.”

The Walnut Room fairy princesses come each year upon the arrival of the Great Tree to spread magic and Christmas cheer, flying in from the North Pole, Candyland, Sugarplum Island and other magical places. Dressed in gowns, the fairies will charm guests of all ages. By customer request, they’ll appear tableside, asking patrons to make a wish and sprinkle some glittery fairy dust to help the wish come true. You may even get a visit from the Fairy Snow Queen, Jade Nicole, who has been sharing her fairy magic with Walnut Room diners for over a decade.

Nicole first came to the Walnut Room 11 years ago as the Keeper of Christmas Wishes from the North Pole.

“Each day I would give children and adults the chance to make a wish with a little fairy dust and a magical song. Then, I would bring their magical wishes to Santa Claus,” said Nicole.

“Some wishes are simple—a toy or a present, but some wishes are much bigger—peace on earth, comfort for the sick, hope and happiness. I like to give everyone the chance to make three wishes,”  the Fairy Snow Queen said. “A wish for yourself, a wish for someone else and a wish for the world.”

“This will be our sixth year making our annual trip to the Walnut Room,” said New Eastside resident Elizabeth Johnston, who goes with her 6-year-old daughter Dillon and a group of friends. Their evening starts with a visit to Santa in Macy’s Santaland on the fifth floor, and then they head to the Walnut Room for dinner and fairy princesses.

“Our favorite thing about the whole experience is the fairy princess,” says Johnston. “It’s so cute to watch the little girls and boys admire her. It’s a heartwarming experience to say the least, which is what brings us back year after year.”

The Walnut Room menu includes both a Holiday Great Tree buffet offered daily, as well as a la carte options. Guests can also sample Mrs. Hering’s famous original chicken pot pie which features the same recipe that has been served since 1890. For more information about dining in the Walnut Room, including holiday hours and pricing, visit http://macysrestaurants.com/walnut-room/.

What’s new at the Christkindlmarket

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

Since 1996, the Christkindlmarket in Chicago has been delighting visitors with holiday food and wares with European flair. Modeled after the famous Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany, Chicago’s version hosts vendors from Illinois, Germany and even as far away as Bethlehem and Nepal. This year’s market offers a mixture of the familiar with some new additions.
Here’s what’s new this year, according to Kate Bleeker, director of expansion and market development for Christkindlmarket Chicago.

The Mugs
Christkindlmarket’s signature mugs have become a collector’s item over the years, and this year the market will offer three-packs of mugs representing each of the market’s locations—Chicago, Naperville and Milwaukee. Individual mugs are also for sale; fill one with Glühwein to warm yourself up. For kids, there’s a special “Oma” (Grandma) snowman mug.

The Vendors
More than 50 vendors from all over the world will be at the market selling handcrafted pieces, Christmas decorations, food and beverages. New this year is a pop-up booth that will rotate vendors every few days to give guests a unique experience every time they visit.

Who’s hungry?
Cheese lovers rejoice! Food vendor Brunkow Cheese will be offering an indulgent new food item—Raclette sandwiches. Raclette cheese is melted, then spread onto fresh bread and finished with the toppings of your choice. Look for it at the Baked Cheese Haus booth.

This year, Christkindlmarket Chicago is partnering with Hannah’s Bretzel. The sandwich chain will have its own “Official Sandwich of the Christkindlmarket,” and the market’s souvenir mugs will be available for purchase at all Hannah’s Bretzel Chicago locations.

For a full list of vendors and events, see Christkindlmarket.com.

Unique gifts and experiences for the pickiest people on your list

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

It’s December and the deadline looms for Christmas shopping. That one person remains without a gift. That person who has everything. What to do?

Get crafty with it…

On Dec. 6, stop by the Sauced Night Market from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 12 S. Michigan Ave. for a variety of arts and crafts. Pick up a hand carved cooking utensil, tray, cutting board or serving platter from Wild Cherry. All of their products are created “from urban domestic lumber,” said Tim McGuire, owner and artisan. Check out their Facebook page here.

At Prism Homegrown, owner Katie Widmar designs “modern bohemian jewelry using raw gemstones and gemstone beads” to create one-of-a-kind pieces, while the folks at The Bitter Ex Bitters Company create one-of-a-kind drinks. Ryan Rezvani, owner and co-founder, produces original bitters, which can be used to liven up desserts, coffees and cocktails. Check out their website here.

Finally, stop by Slapass creations for art to brighten up any space or closet. Matt Sczech, creates vibrant art sold on pins, prints and clothing.

Although the Made in Chicago Market has passed, it’s never too late to visit the businesses featured in the market.

Louisa Mahoney at Bettyplum Homemade Confections aims to carry on her family’s legacy of homemade holiday candies with toffee, caramels, toffee cookies and bourbon toffee truffles. Check out their website here.

Or check out Lauren Bautista’s Pi Design Prints which feature handmade drink coasters decorated with typography and patterns are a great addition to any table.

If you want to support young people, swing by Shop, Jingle and Mingle, a crafts fair featuring pieces made by teen artists in after-school and summer programs. The items include soaps and candles, canvas paintings, glass mosaics, jewelry and other fashion accessories. The fair is two evenings, Dec. 5 and Dec. 10 and runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the After School Matters Gift Shop at 66 E. Randolph St.

Or set a course for crafting…

The Chopping Block at Merchandise Mart offers a variety of cooking, baking and wine-pairing classes sure to improve anyone’s skills in the kitchen.

Choose from classes like “War and Wine,” which gives a lesson on the history of WWII and battles over European wine cellars. Learn how to master a pasta roller and serve up the perfect plate of pasta with “Pasta Boot Camp,” or discover the art of bread with “Artisanal Breads.”

The Chopping Block website is here.

 

A look inside the windows: The News gets a closer look at the Macy’s Christmas displays

Amelia Mehring poses with her grandfather, Aqui Rivera at the Macy’s window.

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

 

The weather’s cold. Snow flurries dance through the crisp air.

And even so, a crowd of people gathers on State Street, pausing to peer into a window, to catch a glimpse of Santa.

It’s the Macy’s window displays and they are working their annual magic.

For locals, there is plenty in downtown that gets, well, regular. There’s no reason to visit the Bean every day. Few locals take selfies with the skyline.

But the windows at Macy’s attract the tourists and the Chicagoans alike because whether it is a first-time visit or a longtime tradition, there’s something in those windows everyone wants to see.

“We come every year,” said Karen Rivera, who visited the windows with her husband, Aqui and their granddaughter, Amelia Mehring.

“We used to bring her father, when he was a boy,” Karen explained.

But what most people don’t see—what they can’t see—is the planning. Brian Peluso is the store’s visual manager and the man behind the windows and even though Christmas window displays take up a small amount of time and space in the Macy’s year, there’s a big deal. It’s a lot of work getting folks coming back, year after year, for generations.

“The planning and execution process can take anywhere from nine months to a year,” Peluso wrote in an email. “Usually once the holiday windows are unveiled for the season, the brainstorming begins for the next year’s windows.”

Macy’s of course is a chain, so the store on State Street is part of a larger, national conversation that includes things like themes. After the stores agree on a look, the decorations are shipped out.

“This year’s window displays were packed and shipped in 20 pallets/crates made up of 15 double length and five standard sized skids,” Peluso wrote. “Also, we typically use about 50-60 pounds of fake snow in each year’s displays.”

The installation team is four or five people and then Peluso’s visual design team includes four people and they add the finishing touches.

When Peluso is designing the windows, he has to bear in mind the history of the tradition. He explained the store has offered displays since the 1870s—and over those years, they have developed a reputation.

“Macy’s was the first store to feature holiday windows created for the pure fun and joy of the season and, with that, began a tradition that still lives on today in numerous cities including New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Salt Lake City,” Peluso wrote. “In Chicago specifically, we’re celebrating the 51st anniversary of our annual holiday window display at Macy’s on State Street.”

This doesn’t mean the display itself is old. While some of the iconography like Santa may remain consistent, Peluso said the general themes do change.

“Each year a few new elements are added,” he said. “This year, we are excited to continue to celebrate all the Reasons to Believe.”

Besides that, each window has its own theme and color palette though there is at least one constant feature used to tie the all the displays together visually.

“Borders are placed around the windows to add to the overlying theme and to reflect Macy’s particular branding style,” Peluso said.

Pelusa said so much work and care goes into the windows, he understands why they attract people. There’s a lot to take in and he has some advice on how to do it right.

“There are so many meticulous details in each window — from the sculpting of the caricatures, to the props, to the backdrops and more,” he wrote. “I’d recommend that viewers get up close to the glass and look at every inch. Then step back, so they’ll see the small details start to pop out, showing how exciting the entire window is.”

Finally, for anyone looking to spruce up their own windows—or a room in their home—with Christmas spirit, Peluso has some advice.

“A good tip that I would recommend to anyone decorating their home for the holidays is that lighting and color go a long way, but when you add music plus a fragrance, such as a candle or potpourri, the decorations become even more captivating since they will touch on all your senses,” he wrote.

Check out the window displays through Christmas at 111 North State St.

Get your gifts close to home: Shop Streeterville

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Streeterville hosts the Mag Mile and a slew of name-brand national retailers in addition to some local hidden gems. Why not shop at both? Here is a list of some of the must-haves in Streeterville.

 

Kriser’s Natural Pet

Kriser’s Natural Pet store, 356 E. Ohio St., is a national brand that started right here in Chicago. Be sure to support this success story for all your pet presents.

This year’s hot ticket items include HuggleHounds holiday pet toys retailing for around $15. If you’re a more practical pet parent who want to keep your dog warm, try a coat from Canada Pooch. Prices vary depending on size and style. Of course, you’ll want a dog coat with some matching boots. This season Pawz rubber boots are the way to go, with most boots costing around $15.

Kriser’s Natural Pet store is open from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. most days. For more information, call 312-951-1331.

 

Sephora

For the finicky and fabulous person on your list, check out Sephora, a high-end beauty store with a variety of makeup and skin products. This year, the store offers two new products that are flying off shelves.

First, customers are going crazy over the Charlotte Tilbury Stars in Your Eyes Palette. This is a limited-edition eye shadow palette retailing for around $75.

The next big thing this season is the Pat McGrath Labs’ Mothership V Eye Palette. Pat McGrath Labs made news this year when its value soared north of $1 billion, and it’s easy to see why with this flashy, tasteful offering, retailing at $125. There are two Sephora locations in Streeterville, 605 N. Michigan Ave. and Water Tower Place at 845 N. Michigan. The 605 N. Michigan Ave. location will not have special hours for Black Friday, but it will offer specialty miniature sets for sale for a limited time that day. The store is open from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. For more information, call 312-649-9343.

 

The Cubs Team Store

The Cubs Team Store, 668. N. Michigan Ave., is the go-to place for all your Cubs fans — for men, women, boys and girls, they have something for everyone. Jerseys are always popular, and this season the top jerseys to buy include the Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo jerseys. The jerseys retail for $135 each.

Looking for something for the little ones? The Cubs Team Store is now offering small Oyo Sports minifigures and buildables (think Legos) for $15 and TY-brand Cubs dolls for $10—perfect for stocking stuffers.

Last year, the store opened early for Black Friday, though no announcement for this year has been made as of press deadline. The store is open from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. For more information, call 312-280-5469.

Get gifts close to home: Shop the New Eastside

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The New Eastside is home to museums, restaurants and retail merchandisers. With so much to choose from, it’s not hard to fill that Christmas list while shopping close to home. Here’s a glimpse at what’s available:

 

Graham Crackers Comic Books

This Chicago staple is home to all manner of comics and graphic novels. This holiday shopping season, the 77 E. Madison location is the place to get both familiar and newer titles.

The store is offering the first volume of Deadly Class for $9.99, which comes out in late November. The first volume of Saga is also out this fall for the same price.

Batman fans won’t want to miss Batman White Knight, a popular title wherein Batman reverses his role with the Joker and the villain becomes the hero, for $19.99.

Of local interest, fans of graphic novels can get Ironheart, a comic featuring Riri Williams, a hero straight from the streets of Chicago who develops her own Iron Man armor to combat villainy and save the city.

Also out this year is Skyward, a science-fiction title that begins in a Chicago of the future, when the earth is losing gravity and only the wealthy can afford to remain on the ground.

The store is also offering a variety of popular Japanese titles, including My Hero Academia.

The New Eastside Graham Crackers will have special offers and discounts for Black Friday, though specifics had not been announced by press time. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. most days. For more information, call 312-629-1810

 

Fannie May

Fannie May is the place to go for holiday sweets, and New Eastside shoppers don’t have to go far to get the good stuff, with a store at 343 N. Michigan Ave.

The go-to treat is the Pixie, the store’s No. 1 seller since 1946. The treat combines caramel and pecans with milk chocolate and retails for $24.99 per pound. Of course the store also offers dark chocolate options, sweet and salty combinations, specialty items and unique assortments.

If Santa needs something a little different, Fannie May offers a variety of sweet stocking stuffers ranging from $5 to $20. The store is open most days from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 312-453-0010.

 

Blackhawks Store

Just as hockey season begins to heat up, the city’s favorite hockey team is offering a selection of merchandise for your favorite hockey fan this season. For men, try a fanatics rinkside adjustable for $30 or a 47B knit break cuff for $20. Or how about a jacket for $55? For women, there’s an Antigua cowl neck for $60, a drink bottle for $49 and a New Era knit cap for $26. Finally, for the little fans, check out the holiday plush bear for $25 or the NHL cap for $28 or a

NHL raglan shirt for $30. The store is open most days from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is located at 333 N. Michigan Avenue. For more information, call 312-759-0079.