4 winter festivals that are worth the chill

T.S. Eliot might have said that April was the cruelest month, but as long-suffering Chicagoans, we think January takes the cake. But rather than struggle under Mother Nature’s fickle, frost-bitten thumb all month, we’ve decided to embrace the joys of winter with these great family-friendly events.

Long before there was fleece-lined leggings, the pioneers really had to rough it in winter. Step back in time at Spring Valley Winter Fest, which celebrates the season the old-fashioned way, complete with snow shoe walks, horse-drawn wagon rides and marshmallows roasted over a bonfire (those sweet treats have been around a lot longer than you thought). The day also includes indoor fun like crafts and other activities, not to mention some visitors of the canine variety. Noon-3 p.m. Jan. 16-17. $3, $12 family. Spring Valley Nature Center& Heritage Farm, 111 E. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg. (847) 985-2100.

It’s OK to have a little fun, even if your toes are frozen stiff. That’s the idea of Northbrook’s Winter Carnival, which is all about having a good time despite–or maybe because of–the chill in the air. Show off your axels and salchows on the ice rink, warm up with some snowshoeing, watch an expert carve an ice sculpture, meet some sled dog friends and play a game of Holiday Bingo. Oh yeah–and be sure to roast a marshmallow or two (sense a theme yet?). 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Jan. 16. Free. Meadowhill Park, 1479 Maple Ave., Northbrook. (847) 291-2995.

You’ll want to bundle up before you head out to Homewood-Flossmoor’s Celebration of Winter, which encourages you to get up close and personal with whatever fresh powder is out there. Families can work together to build the ultimate snowman (Olaf would approve), brighten up the stark landscape with some Kool-Aid snow spray, go on a cross country skiing adventure, enjoy a hayride or sing some karaoke from the comfort of the great indoors. We call dibs on “Let It Go.” 3-6 p.m. Jan. 23. Free. Coyote Run Golf Course, 800 Kedzie Ave., Flossmoor. (708) 957-0300.

There couldn’t be a better spot for a celebration of the great outdoors than a 47-acre natural area, unsullied by car tires or your kids’ bootprints. Head to Volo Bog’s WinterFest, which features snow-sculpting contests for the artistically inclined, winter bog hikes for the athletes, and cookies and hot cocoa for the rest of us. There will also be live music and storytelling, as well as winter-themed crafts, for those who prefer to enjoy the wonders of winter through a window. Noon-4 p.m. Jan. 10. Volo Bog State Natural Area, 28478 W. Brandenburg Road, Ingleside. (815) 344-1294.

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