11 a.m.; 6 p.m. parade
Michigan Avenue, from
Oak Street to Wacker Drive
According to folklore, Chicago-or Michigan Avenue, to be
exact-is where the tradition of putting twinkly white lights in
And each year, more than one million tiny lights are lit on the
boulevard at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, the holiday
season's first celebration.
"We're trying to get the word out to as many folks about the
lights festival and certainly want everybody to have the best
experience they possibly can," says marketing co-chair Bob
He shared his insider secrets to make sure families kick off the
holiday season right-and with a great view.
When to arrive
Festivities start at 11 a.m. at Pioneer Court (in front of
Tribune Tower) with a concert by Justin Roberts and the Not Ready
for Naptime Players.
"It's wonderful for the stroller crowd, because it's before
things get crowded."
After the concert, stick around for other kid-friendly acts, and
check out all the free fun at Lights Festival Lane, including Eli's
Cheesecake, face painting and a visit with Santa Claus.
Later in the afternoon, the crowd grows, so Dion recommends
heading out for lunch, shopping or a visit to the Hancock
Observatory before staking out your turf for the Lighting
Where to sit
Latecomers gravitate toward the intersection of Wacker Drive and
Michigan Avenue or the stretch of Michigan from Superior to Ohio
Streets, Dion says, so he recommends families go to the east side
of the street on the north end of the parade route to get a good
view. His favorite spot for families is the intersection of Oak
Street and Michigan Avenue, where kids can see Mickey Mouse leading
Other highlights of the parade include marching bands, giant
inflatable characters, Disney characters and stars, sports
celebrities, and, of course, Santa. The parade is followed by
fireworks about 15 or 20 minutes later.
If you want to sit in a less crowded area, but still want to see
the fireworks, Dion recommends catching a cab down Columbus Drive
and getting out near the NBC Tower.
"You'll have a perfect angle for the fireworks," he says.
What else to know
Although last year's Magnificent Mile Lights Festival dawned
warm and sunny, there's no weather guarantee. So Dion recommends
dressing warmly and bringing blankets and handwarmers, not to
mention camping chairs so you don't have to sit on the cold
Hotel lobbies, stores, Starbucks and even Walgreens are all
open, so you can duck in for a quick warm-up.
"It's generally not bitter cold," Dion says. "(But) sometimes a
little chilly adds to the flavor of the season."
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.
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