What would the holidays be without traditional, extravagant light displays and winter festivals? In addition to exploring the lights in your neighborhood, create wonderful family memories by venturing out to these long-time favorites.

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Weekends: Nov. 25-27; Dec. 2-4; Dec. 9-11
Nightly: Dec. 16 – Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24 and 25)
10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.

ZooLights is free and open to the public. Join the Lincoln Park Zoo for ice carving demonstrations, visits with Santa, warm drinks, cool crafts and more than one million beautiful lights. Enter a winter wonderland illuminated by approximately 2 million lights at Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Charter One. This holiday classic has become one of the Windy City’s must-see seasonal events.

Get a picture taken with Santa through December 23rd, prepare holiday crafts and watch ice carving. Then escape the cold and experience the climates, conditions and animals of four continents: South America, Africa, Asia and Australia in our Regenstein Small Mammal Reptile House. Animal exhibits stay open late.

(credit: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Winter WonderFest returns to Navy Pier for its 11th holiday season. This Chicago tradition delights visitors of all ages with breathtaking holiday décor that fills 170,000 square feet of indoor holiday fun. Come to experience thousands of glistening lights, hundreds of decorated holiday trees, festive candy cane decor and enchanted holiday entertainment on various stages. Visitors from around the world come to the Winter WonderFest to wander about the lavishly decorated holiday village and to enjoy an indoor adventure that includes exciting rides, huge inflatable slides, train rides, indoor ice skating, climbing walls, cookie decorating, live entertainment and so much more! You’ll need to pay for admission, rides and parking, and of course any extras, like food and souvenirs.

czs.org (Brookfield Zoo)

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Enjoy more than 120 animated light displays, live entertainment, model trains, a train ride, a dolphin show, ice carvers and, of course, the animals. Many of our indoor exhibits will be open for viewing favorite animals, including our newest, Great Bear Wilderness. In addition, the zoo restaurants and food stands will be open with full menus and holiday treats, and gift shops will have hundreds of unique items for those hard-to-shop-for family and friends.

Museum of Science & Industry
November 17, 2011 – January 08, 2012
9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Included with General Admission

The Museum halls will be decked, holiday singers and dancers will fuel the festivities, and the sparkle of dozens of decorated trees will greet you at this year’s Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light. The Museum’s grand tree takes center stage in the Rotunda, while more than 50 trees beautifully decorated by members of Chicago’s ethnic communities to represent global cultures adorn the Museum’s Main Level. Stroll through the trees, enjoy intermittent falling “snow” and savor the performances of various dance and choral groups on the Holiday Stage.

(credit: Chicago Botanic.org)

Take a magical trip to a winter wonderland of twinkling lights and holiday beauty at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Outside, 750,000 lights sparkle and welcome you and your family to the Garden’s wonderland. Inside the Regenstein Center, a 10,000-square-foot exhibition of miniature trains winds over bridges, under trestles, past waterfalls, and through more than 80 mini-replicas of Chicago’s favorite landmarks. On select dates (see website) you can have breakfast or supper with Santa, hot chocolate with Mrs. Claus, or a Hanukkah dinner and concert. (Closed Christmas Day.)

Also check out our Top Five Don’t Miss Holiday Experiences in Chicago!

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Kristin McCann is working mom with two young girls. She strives to have fun, quality time with her family and a fulfilling professional career – even though many believe the two to be mutually exclusive.