This is my tenth holiday season here in Chicago, and as a relative newbie, I’ve tried to hit all the “big” local traditions over the years. I’ve seen Goodman’s Christmas Carol and Joffrey’s Nutcracker, been awed by ZooLights and Illumination: Tree Lights and had a blast at WinterWonderfest at Navy Pier. But on Saturday, I set out for one Chicago tradition I hadn’t yet tried: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s annual holiday concert. And I’m certain it’s something I’ll want to experience again and again to officially mark the special season.
But it isn’t just adults who will enjoy the decidedly cultured celebration. I couldn’t even count all the kids in the audience (many of them wearing Santa hats!), but was particularly charmed by the five-year-old boy in front of me who literally sat on the edge of his seat for much of the concert – when he wasn’t enthusiastically aping the conductor, that is. I also spied many multi-generational families, with grandparents, aunts and uncles joining in the holiday outing fun.
A large part of its all-ages appeal is the type of music: a high-energy blend of familiar carols and jazzy instrumentals that kept the toes tapping. We also enjoyed the audience sing-along portion of the program; music is probably my favorite aspect of the Christmas season, so I relished the chance to belt out favorites like “Joy to the World” and “The First Noel.”
This year’s performance, “Merry, Merry Chicago!,” also includes two special guests. The Midwest Young Artists Voices Rising bring their youthful energy to “This Chrismastide” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” not to mention some fun interludes with Santa Claus himself. And fellow “Sound of Music” superfans won’t be able to resist The von Trapps – great-grandchildren of the Captain and Maria von Trapp, who have clearly inherited their ancestors’ musical talent. The quartet sings in a wide variety of musical styles, but I got the biggest thrill out of the audience singing “Edelweiss” along with them.
The concert wraps up with yet another tradition with which I wasn’t quite familiar – a singing of “Christmas in Chicago,” which has been performed at Orchestra Hall each year since it was commissioned in 1996. It was the perfect segue into the rest of our quintessentially Chicago evening: we made our way to the city’s Christmas Tree in Millennium Park, over to the Christkindlmarket, and finally to Macy’s to check out the windows and enjoy dinner at The Walnut Room.
There are so many wonderful happenings in the city this time of year, and it’s fun to find which ones perfectly fit your family’s style. But regardless of the activities you choose, we can all agree that, as the song says, “Christmas in Chicago is my kind of Christmas, it’s just what Christmas ought to be.”