6 non-touristy ways to celebrate the holiday season in Chicago

This winter, think beyond the typical over-crowded (and sometimes oft-overrated) yuletide festivities. Here’s a list of low-stress—but still plenty merry—alternatives to make the best of this time of year in Chicago.

Grab the skates for WickerICE

Thanks to WickerICE, there’s no need to schlep downtown and battle the masses to get the kiddos (or yourself) on skates.

As soon as the ice freezes solid (keep tabs on Facebook for updates), Northsiders will have their very own rink for the second year.

It’s located smack dab in Wicker Park proper, and since the project is funded and maintained by the community, you can pirouette around the 60-foot by 120-foot rink for free. Make sure to BYO skates.

Sip spirits at Miracle

More than 50 bars around the world are taking part in “Miracle”—a holiday-themed pop-up with a charitable component—and through December 31, the Orbit Room in Avondale is decked out in its festive finest and pouring a special selection of yuletide cocktails.

The newly revamped bar sports floor-to-ceiling nostalgic holiday décor, while its beer garden has been transformed into a Christmas tree lot.

Signature cocktails include the gingery, mezcal-based Muletide and the Run Run Rudolph (blanco tequila, coffee liqueur, and iced hot chocolate).

If you opt to purchase your glassware, a portion of proceeds will benefit Action Against Hunger, a global charity that fights starvation.

Take in a double flick

Wrigleyville’s Music Box Theatre returns with its double features of everyone’s favorite holiday classics: White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Now in its 34th year, the cinematic showcase runs from December 9 through Christmas Eve.

Before shows start, you can mingle with Santa and join him in a Christmas carol sing-along.

Then, whether you stick it out for the double feature or take off after White Christmas is your call: Either way, you’ll walk out feeling downright jolly.

Take in a parade

Andersonville’s ethnic roots are on full display December 13, as the neighborhood honors the Swedish tradition of St. Lucia’s Day.

The celebration kicks off when the “Lucia Girls” parade down Clark Street wearing candle-topped crowns; and continues at the Swedish American Museum, where you’ll learn the legend of St. Lucia and enjoy traditional Swedish snacks.

If you’re so inclined, you can off your outing with a steaming mug of glögg at Simon’s Tavern.

Surround yourself with fire and ice

Garfield Park Conservatory’s six sprawling greenhouses always make for an excellent respite from winter’s chill, but there’s no better time to take in the lush flora and fauna than the Christmas season, when the west side gem puts on its annual holiday flower display.

This year’s theme is “Fire and Ice,” and with the aid of brilliantly colored poinsettias and conifers, it tells a story about the regenerative power that fire and frost provide to ecosystems.

Admission to the conservatory, as always, is free, and the show runs through January 7.

Shop a holiday pop up

At ACME Hotel in River North, you can knock out your shopping in one fell swoop and (bonus!) support local artisans at the boutique hotel’s inaugural holiday pop-up market.

Each day of the four-day event will feature a different mix of Etsy vendors (who typically only offer their wares online) and items—ranging from retro 90’s pop culture goods to hand-knitted coffee mug holders, vintage jewelry, and even snarky greeting cards for laughs.

Check the full schedule here.

Written by Carly Boers
Carly Boers is a freelance lifestyle and food journalist whose work appears regularly in Chicago magazine. She lives in (and loves) Logan Square.