10 ways to enjoy Thanksgiving weekend with your family in Chicago

With Chicago thermometers only reaching the 20s and 30s in early November, it’s beginning to feel more and more like the holidays. And, I’m all for making the most of the holiday feeling. That’s why I’m gearing up for the next big holiday to come our way – Thanksgiving.

Even with the ever-present chance of chilly temperatures for the holiday, there is always a wealth of great family-friendly ways to celebrate Thanksgiving in Chicago. Of course, given how much Chicagoans like a good party, it’s no surprise that the fun starts on Thanksgiving and continues all weekend long.

In fact, in recent years, Thanksgiving has become a bit of a kick-start of the rest of the holiday season. As soon as we’re full of turkey and the typical holiday fixings, it’s time to step away from the table and get ready to fully jump into the holiday fun. Yes, there’s no time to sit idle. As soon as Thanksgiving ends, the winter holiday season ramps up in a big way, with many annual holiday events getting underway. And, that’s exactly why I think there’s nothing quite like staying home (or coming to visit) Chicago during Thanksgiving.

Here are 10 ways to enjoy Thanksgiving weekend with your family in Chicago:

1. McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade
State Street from Congress Pkwy to Randolph Dr. (Loop)
Thursday, November 27, 8 – 11 am
Free admission

For many families across the country, Thanksgiving means watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as its larger-than-life balloons sail down the streets of Manhattan. In recent years, my family has set our DVR to record the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and instead, head out into the chilly temperatures to watch the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade – live as it takes to the streets of our hometown of Chicago.

The McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade steps off at Congress Pkwy and State St. and heads south down State St. to Randolph Dr. This year, the parade will feature giant helium balloons, floats, marching bands, equestrian units, performance groups, and local and national celebrities. It comes as no surprise to see that the US Little League National Champions from Jackie Robinson West will be featured in the parade.

Personally, I enjoy all of the diverse community groups that participate in the parade, including the Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theatre, Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago and Un Dia en Antigua Guatemala, to name just a few.

Can’t make it to the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade? You can catch it live on WGN-TV (Channel 9).

Here is a look at a few images from my family’s trip to the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade in 2012.

2. Turkey Day Run Chicago
Lincoln Park
Thursday, November 27, 9 am
Entry fees vary; register online

What better way to get better to tuck into a big Thanksgiving dinner then with a run through Chicago’s Lincoln Park. The 38th Annual Turkey Day Run Chicago has something for the whole family. You can choose to run (or walk) the 5K or 8K courses, and kids can participate in the Plymouth Rock Ramble. Plus, this year, the whole family can enjoy a variety of games in the Turkey Tailgate Zone, including turkey bowling, football throw, cornhole toss, costume contest, CLIF Kid Zone Tent, and more.

3. Skating at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink 
Millennium Park
On Michigan Ave. between Washington and Madison Streets
Now through March 8, 2015
Regular hours for the season are listed online
Free admission; $12 skate rental

Looking for another way to burn off your Thanksgiving meal?  The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park is open on Thanksgiving from 10 am – 4 pm and throughout the holiday weekend – weather permitting, of course. It’s free to skate at the scenic ice rink, and ice skates (sizes Toddler 8 – Adult 13) are available to rent for $12. You can warm up with hot chocolate at the nearby Park Grill Cafe.

Hot chocolate and snacks are available at the Park Grill Cafe.

If you’re at Millennium Park that Friday evening, be sure to come hear holiday songs sung by Chicago choral groups during Caroling at Cloud Gate for one hour starting at 6 pm. The free program, held at the Chase Promenade Central (N. Michigan Ave. and E. Randolph St.), starts up on Friday, November 28, and then occurs Friday evenings through December 19, 2014. You’ll also have the chance to participate in the holiday sing-along, too.

4. Wreathing of the Lions
Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave. (Grant Park)
Friday, November 28, 10am – 3 pm
Free admission

On Friday, you can participate in a quintessential Chicago holiday tradition – watching the “wreathing” of the two lions that stand guard outside of the Michigan Ave. entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago. Yes, the annual tradition is 23 years in the making, and Chicagoans love to see the lions don their traditional evergreen wreaths live and in person. Guests at the event will be treated to complimentary hot chocolate and live music.

After the outdoor ceremony, families can stop by the Art Institute’s Ryan Education Center to create holiday wreaths decorated with drawings of your family’s favorite holiday traditions.

5. Christkindlmarket Chicago 
Daley Plaza
50 W. Washington St. (Loop)
Friday, November 21 – Wednesday, Dec. 24
Free admission

The Christkindlmarket Chicago officially opens for the holiday season about a week before Thanksgiving. The festive, open-air holiday market is open daily, making it the perfect place to visit over the holidays – even on Thanksgiving!

You can head to Christkindlmarket Chicago to browse traditional art, handmade gifts, German foods, and more. Families should be sure to pick up a Christkindlmarket Passport and then let your children get stamps from various “Passport Stamping Stations” located throughout the market. It’s a great way to let parents shop and kids have fun!

You can see photos from one of my recent visits to the Christkindlmarket here.

111 N. State St. (Loop)
Now through January 11, 2015
Free admission

If you visit the Christkindlmarket, be sure to head one block east to see the holiday windows at the Macy’s on State Street. During the holidays, crowds gather around the first-floor windows of the department stores to view animated images that bring the joy of the holiday season to life.

This year, theme of the holiday display is “The Journey of a Christmas Wish.” The windows envelop you in a young girl’s imagination as her wish list travels Macy’s on State Street. As you walk past the windows, you can follow a “fantasy voyage” through Santa’s workshop to Santa’s journey to deliver gifts to children around the world.

For many people, a holiday visit to the Macy’s on State Street isn’t complete without dining under the 45-foot Great Tree that graces The Walnut Room from late November to early January each year. A wait for a table during peak times can run long, so be sure to read The Walnut Room’s helpful visitor tips before you head there.

7. ZooLights
Lincoln Park Zoo
Cannon Dr. at Fullerton Pkwy (Lincoln Park)
Friday, November 28 – Sunday, November 30, 5 – 9 pm
(Open throughout the holiday season; find the full schedule here)
Free admission

The Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual holiday lights display, ZooLights, opens the day after Thanksgiving. The free event features an amazing array of light displays thrill people of all ages. Each night, the first 1,000 guests receive holiday glasses that allow you to see the lights in a new, fun way.

While at the zoo, you can pose for photos with Santa (until he needs to head to the North Pole…), enjoy free holiday crafts, see live ice carvings, ride the carousel and train, go ice skating at the Farm-in-the-Zoo, and more. Of course, you can get a nighttime look at all of the animals, too!

8. Wonderland Express
Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Rd. (Glencoe, Ill.)
Friday, November 28 – Sunday, January 4, 10 am – 6 pm
$12 adults; $10 kids 3 – 12; free for kids 2 and under

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s annual Wonderland Express exhibit opens for the holiday season on the day after Thanksgiving. It features a model railroad track that weaves in and out of iconic Chicago landmarks and scenery. This year, the Wonderland Express will feature the Stanley Cup, won by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, and the Como Inn, the beloved River West Italian restaurant that closed in 2001.

Throughout the holiday festival, you can watch ice sculptors create fantastic sculptures, browse at a holiday market, and more.

Families should be sure to check the Chicago Botanic Garden’s classes and events calendar for a full schedule of family drop-in activities to enjoy before or after you view the Wonderland Express.

9. Pixar in Concert
Symphony Center
220 S. Michigan Ave. (Loop)
Friday, November 28 at 8 pm
Saturday, November 29 at 8 pm
Sunday, November 30 at 3 pm
Tickets can be purchased online

During Thanksgiving weekend, you can choose to enjoy one of three Pixar in Concert performances held at the Symphony Center. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will delight people of all ages with music from your favorite Pixar movies, including Up, the Toy Story trilogy and Monsters University. The scores will be played live as clips of beloved characters from the films are displayed in the background.

The concerts are recommended for children ages 5 and up. Please note that infants will not be admitted into the performances.

10. Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light Exhibit
The Museum of Science and Industry
5700 S. Lake Shore Dr. (Hyde Park)
Now through Sun., Jan. 4, 2015 (Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas)
Free with museum admission

The Museum of Science and Industry’s 73rd annual Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibit is now open for all to enjoy. This year, the exhibit features more than 50 trees and displays that have been decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities to help showcase their culture and holiday traditions, helping to give you a global view of how holidays are celebrated around the world. At the center of the exhibit is a 45-foot “Grand Tree,” decorated with more than 30,000 lights and hundreds of Disney-inspired ornaments and trimmings. As an added treat, “snow” will gently fall on you every half hour (while you are all warm and toasty inside).

The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, but open the rest of the holiday weekend.

Thanksgiving weekend events in Chicago (RaisingWorldCitizens.com)

Thanksgiving weekend events in Chicago (RaisingWorldCitizens.com)

There is a lot more multicultural fun to be had together.  Be sure to “like” Raising World Citizens on Facebook to join in on the conversation. And, join me on a visual journey of my efforts to raise two world citizens on Instagram.

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