3 picks for lighting up the holiday night

Strands of holiday lights evoke something purely wonderful — and add the much-needed ‘bright’ to ‘merry and bright’. Here are three of Chicagoland’s favorite ways to indulge in this seasonal joy, and three guaranteed ways to have the family jingling all the way. 

Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour

There’s something so magical about playing tourist in your own town, and there’s no better season to do so in Chicago than at the holidays. The Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. has perfected the art of touristing with their wonderful Holiday Lights Tour, taking the hassle of traffic and parking out of the equation, leaving the (grateful) masses to enjoy the joys of downtown in all of its bedecked glory. 

Folks embarking on the holiday tour board the iconic red trolleys at the base of the John Hancock Building, and set off for a lightly narrated tour with a charming professional. First stop? A sweet snack at Sprinkles Cupcakes (known for their legendary Cupcake ATM, and even offering gluten-free options to their adoring customers) to enjoy while marveling at the decorated store windows on the Magnificent Mile. (Macy’s State Street-side displays alone are worth the trek.) 

Need to stretch? The trolley drops you off (and picks you right back up) at the bustling Daley Plaza Christkindlmarket, for all of your roasted chestnut, mulled glühwein and handcrafted ornaments needs, and gate-front access to the stunning Lincoln Park Zoo’s ‘Zoo Lights’ make you feel like you’ve won some sort of Christmas lotto. 

And when they return you to the Hancock building a mere 2.5 hours later — having seen a travel brochure’s worth of postcard-worthy sights, you’ll realize that perhaps you have. 

Runs through Dec. 23, 2017

Departs from 875 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago

Christmas Around the World’ and ‘Holidays of Light’ at the MSI

The Museum of Science & Industry’s fantastic Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibits — celebrating their 75th anniversary this season — feature more than 50 trees, representing countries, cultures, and Christmas traditions around the globe. Did you know that the origins of Christmas Around the World can be dated back to 1942, as a United Nations Day nod of solidarity to the Allies during World War II? (Just goes to show that you can marvel at the same museum year after year and still come away with something awesome.)

If each gorgeous tree is the proud representative of its country, then the 45-foot tall Grand Tree in the Rotunda, lit up with 30k sparkling lights and glittering ornaments, is the mother of them all. (Gingerbread feeling? Heck, you’ll have the whole bakery in your heart as soon as this one comes into sight.) New this year to the exhibit: Assyria, with the theme of brotherhood; Australia, featuring the works of Australian indigenous artists; and Nigeria, whose tree is decorated with handmade ornaments of black-eyed peas and beaded jewelry.

Other draws to this must-see exhibit include “snow” falling every half an hour on the Museum’s Main Floor, a multitude of Santa visits and performances from local cultural groups. This one is sure to replenish the holiday spirit, not to mention strengthen the connections to the multitude of cultures we’ve all come from. 

Runs through Jan. 7, 2018 (check website for extended holiday hours and daily programming)

Museum of Science & Industry

5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

‘Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum’

Ready to be wowed? Now in its fifth season, fans returning to the globally recognized Morton Arboretum’s ‘Illumination’ will be thrilled to rediscover the 50 acres of decorated trees and interactive experiences, featuring eco-friendly, energy-efficient lighting. ’Treemagination’ is a huge draw, with the appearance of “breathing” trees and glowing colors, the ‘Crystal Promenade’ will probably be the most decadent, chandelier-encrusted forest through which you’ve ever twirled, and in ‘Symphony Woods,’ the tree lights dance along to choreographed classical music.

But the Morton Arboretum has upped its dazzle game with some new exhibits, too. Visitors can wear programmed, interactive pendants called Illu-medallions, which light up in sync as you move through the trees (and can be re-used every year!), and a timed entry ensures a chill stroll for all. Although hugging a tree that responds with lights can warm your soul, the rest of you will appreciate the warming stations — complete with crackling fires — along the paths, and gourmet hot chocolate does wonders for flagging, dragging feet. 

A perfect blend of technology, conservation, and a vibrant burst of holiday cheer, this is just the ‘walking in a winter wonderland’ your season deserves. 

Runs through Jan. 1, 2018

Morton Arboretum

4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle

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