How better to get into the Christmas spirit than to start a new tradition by taking the whole family to a holiday-inspired wonderland? Chicago boasts some of the best family-centric Christmas events that span the entire month of December, enticing all who come to get in the celebration mood. Bundle the kids and venture out to one {or all!} of the best festivities that little ones and mom and dad alike will anticipate attending every year.


(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)


Daley Plaza
Washington and Dearborn
Chicago, IL

When: Now through Dec. 24, 2010, Sun-Thur., 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Chicagoans have been enjoying the unique nature of this German-inspired market since its arrival in the city 15 years ago. Little eyes grow wide at the site of the enormous, glowing Christmas tree towering over the vendor tents amid the backdrop of big-city skyscrapers. Chilly little hands will appreciate wrapping fingers around a cup of hot fruit punch just as much as their taste buds will enjoy the flavor.

While the kids and parents alike enjoy the festive merriment of the scene, fans of hand-made items like toys, clocks, jewelry, candies and soaps have the opportunity to pick up some original Christmas gifts.

Wonderland Express

(credit: Tim Boyle/Newsmakers)

Wonderland Express

Chicago Botanical Gardens
1000 Lake Cook Rd.
Glencoe, IL 60022
(847) 835-5440

When: Now through Jan. 2, 2011, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily

The outdoor gardens lure families to bundle up and take a walk around the grounds, which are decked out in thousands of twinkling, shimmering lights.
When respite is needed from the chilly winter air, families can head inside the Regenstein Center to warm up while following miniature trains that chug past waterfalls, trees and even 80 miniature replicas of famous Chicago landmarks. Older children and parents will have fun locating the buildings and talking about them.
Parents of smaller children can rest assured there is plenty of space for beginning walkers and antsy preschoolers to roam while enjoying the 10,000 square foot exhibit. On weekends, carolers can be heard singing Christmas songs in the exhibit.

The garden also offers special events on weekends, like enjoying hot chocolate with Mrs. Claus or having supper with Santa. Tickets for these events can be found at the garden’s web site.

Enchanted Railroad

Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois Rt. 53
Lisle, IL 60532
(630) 968-0074

When: Now through Jan. 2, 2011, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily

Similar to the Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, the Enchanted Railroad at the Morton Arboretum features nine different remote-control operated colorful trains that circle and loop through a winter scene inside the arboretum. The trains climb up hills to circle enormous holiday-light adorned trees, and also sail through villages while hauling things like salt and Christmas trees. Parents will appreciate that this exhibit is free, so no one will feel short changed if little attention spans wane and only enjoy the Mother Earth-themed exhibit for a bit.



Holiday Magic

Brookfield Zoo
8400 31st Street (1st Ave. and 31st St.)
Brookfield, IL 60304
(708) 688-8000

When: Dec. 11-12, 18-19, 26-31 and Jan. 1, 4 -9 p.m.

Families who attend one of the 13 Enchanted Evenings at the zoo will have a hard time picking a favorite feature. Aside from the zoo glowing with millions of holiday lights, the Enchanted Evenings also boast a new exhibit – the Great Bear Wilderness. In addition to walking the mall and enjoying the decorated, interactive displays, Enchanted Evenings also showcase special dolphin shows, train rides and Victorian-garbed carolers serenading the animals {and people} at different times and places each evening.

Parents will want to stop by the Big Barn in the children’s zoo so their little ones can take a picture with reindeer as well as stroll past the Nature Stage so as to enjoy watching ice sculptors carve 400 pounds of ice into magnificent creations.

When your pack needs to warm up, head over to the Holly Jolly Theater and enjoy storytelling, choirs, dance troupes and a model train display.

Hyacynth Worth writes life out loud at Undercover Mother. She tackles the various facets of motherhood, faith, natural parenting and healthy living in between chasing after two young boys.