Holiday break on a budget

Most of us are not headed to a sunny island retreat or scenic snow-covered slopes for our holiday break (bummer). However, the good news is that there is plenty to do right here in Chicago. Save some cash (without scrimping on fun) by taking advantage of the many free or inexpensive family events and activities happening during the holiday season. And don’t forget that you can always get creative and make your own fun at home, too!

Each of the following holiday events or activities will provide a family of four with some seasonal fun for around $10 or less.

Most of us are not headed to a sunny island retreat or scenic snow-covered slopes for our holiday break (bummer). However, the good news is that there is plenty to do right here in Chicago. Save some cash (without scrimping on fun) by taking advantage of the many free or inexpensive family events and activities happening during the holiday season. And don’t forget that you can always get creative and make your own fun at home, too!

Visit Lincoln Park ZooLights to see Santa Claus, enjoy livemusic and participate in holiday crafts under millions of twinklinglights at this popular annual event. ZooLights takes place on theweekends of Nov. 26-28, Dec. 3-5 and Dec. 10-12 and is open nightlyDec. 17-Jan. 2, with the exception of Dec. 24 and 25. Thefestivities take place 5-9 p.m. As always, admission is free. Youcan even download a ZooLights iPhone app or a guide map from thewebsite before you go at lpzoo.org

Holiday lights


Each holiday season, Daley Plaza is transformed into a charminglittle village called Christkindlmarket. This open-air marketoffers up everything from European-style ornaments to Germanspecialties like bratwurst and strudel. Little visitors can sip onhot apple cider as they wait their turn to chat with Santa Claus.Open daily Nov. 23-Dec. 24. christkindlmarket.com.

Holiday shopping


Think outside of the tried-and-true seasonal traditions andstart your own. For example, try hosting a build-your-own snowmancompetition. Invite neighbors and friends to join you for theultimate snowman-building battle. Encourage everyone to come upwith their own theme and use items found around the house asaccessories. Meet up at your local park or another area with plentyof snow to go around and let the showdown begin. Incentivize theparticipants with snowman-themed snacks and prizes. Keep itsimple-think snowman-shaped Rice Krispie treats or snowman sundaes(three scoops of vanilla ice cream stacked with add-ins likechocolate chips for eyes and red licorice for a scarf).

Create your own holiday traditiobns


Think outside of the tried-and-true seasonal traditions andstart your own. For example, try hosting a build-your-own snowmancompetition. Invite neighbors and friends to join you for theultimate snowman-building battle. Encourage everyone to come upwith their own theme and use items found around the house asaccessories. Meet up at your local park or another area with plentyof snow to go around and let the showdown begin. Incentivize theparticipants with snowman-themed snacks and prizes. Keep itsimple-think snowman-shaped Rice Krispie treats or snowman sundaes(three scoops of vanilla ice cream stacked with add-ins likechocolate chips for eyes and red licorice for a scarf).

Holiday treats


On Fridays at 6 p.m., holiday revelers join together forCaroling at the Bean (also known as Cloud Gate) in Millennium Park.Each week features a different musical group or local choir. Thefree event includes complimentary hot chocolate and votive candlesfor participants. Nov. 25-Dec. 16. millenniumpark.org.

Holiday tunes


Even Santa rides the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) during theholidays! The CTA Holiday Train makes stops on all the lines duringNovember and December. The “sleigh” is decked out in holidaydecorations and Santa and his elves hop off at each stop to passout candy canes. Normal CTA fares apply. Visit transitchicago.com for the full schedule.

Holiday ho-ho-ho on the CTA


Visit the website elfyourself.com and paste photos of your family
members’ heads onto the bodies of jolly dancing elves. Share the
hilarity with family and friends via email. Sending holiday
greetings has never been so fun.

Holiday greetings


On Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 4:45 p.m., join in the St. Lucia Festivalof Lights procession at the Swedish American Museum inAndersonville. The Swedish tradition calls for the oldest daughterof the household to serve her parents coffee and Lucia buns, whilesinging the Lucia song. She wears a wreath on her head and leads asinging procession of other girls. The museum celebrates byselecting the annual Lucia representative to lead the candlelitprocession on Clark Street. The event concludes with singing, foodand more fun back at the museum. The procession is free, butadmission to the museum is $1 or a canned food donation. swedishamericanmuseum.org.

Holiday traditions


Indulge the kids with some holiday-themed screen time. Downloadsome fun holiday-themed apps to your iPhone or iPad to pass thetime on a cold and snowy day. Try Snow Globe Maker Winter, SantaClaus Tracker, Super Dreidel or Grinchmas, all available at theiTunes app store for 99 cents each.

Holiday screen time


On Dec. 4, sugar-plum fairies and toy soldiers of all agesdescend on the Chicago Cultural Center for the 11th annual Dance-Along Nutcracker. This free, interactive event invites
audience members to hit the dance floor alongside the professional
performers. The performances take place at noon and 3 p.m. Younger
participants are invited to join in a free ballet workshop one hour
prior to each show.

Holiday performances


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