Decades of Chicagoland holidays

Growing up on the south side of Chicago in the late 1950’s, for my Dad, it was the Christmas Tree. In the picture, this was my second Christmas, My second tree. The Christmas tree that was real. Not the fake trees that were first metal, silver and generally had coordinated ball ornaments that were all the same. The metal tree also rotated in a stand to music with floor lights. My father had to have an 8ft real tree with over 600 colored bulb lights where two lights of the same color were never together, bubble lights which were effectively scattered as well as intricate ornaments  placed with care on each branch to compliment the space. Tinsel was hung one string at a time. And that was it…sometimes he would put colored lights to frame his creation around the front window facing the street. The tree took hours, sometimes days to complete but it was his masterpiece and still remembered by many today. After Dad passed away , I tried to carry on the tradition in the 1970’s for my Mother. She switched to a fake, green tree with the new Italian lights and garland while living in Dolton. My own children had the same in the 1990’s only with new ornaments, bows and taller since it sat in a foyer at our home in Downers Grove.

What about other holiday decorations famous through the years? Over 108 years, the Chicago downtown tree has always been a major favorite to visit. The first official Christmas tree in the city of Chicago was installed in 1913 in Grant Park and lit on Christmas Eve by then-mayor Carter Harrison. This first tree was a 35-foot (11 m) tall spruce tree. Beginning with Christmas 1966 the official Chicago Christmas tree was placed in Civic Center Plaza, now known as Daley Plaza. At that time, it was over 70ft tall and made of several trees. I was mesmerized as a child though my children were not as excited. With the exception of 1981, the tree was installed in Daley Plaza each year until 2015 where it moved to Millenium Park. The Civic Center now celebrates the 25th year of Christkindlmarket. The booths were always fun to visit with my children occasionally buying a mug of the best hot chocolate.

At two years old, my son began calling it the Christmas Tree House. His first trip was in 1989 and that is what stuck with our family all these years. Throughout the 1990’s, my son and my daughter traveled there every year for Christmas and just could not stop staring; could not be pulled away regardless of the weather. Some called it Santa’s house, others, the Christmas House. However, it was the most beautiful holiday home in Downers Grove, created by Diane and Rion Goyette.

More great places today!

Lincoln Park Zoolights 
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago
On the north side of Chicago, for over 20 years Lincoln Park Zoo has provided a beautiful light display of over 2 million lights. You can also find beautiful ice carvings throughout the zoo grounds and other holiday related activities such as ice skating where you can bring your own skates or rent a pair.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo 8400 31st St. Brookfield, Il 60513
Just south of Chicago in Brookfield at the zoo, you can see over 30 years of celebration for the holiday season. Visitors can be dazzled by over a million lights and can enjoy caroling with the animals and special treat with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Several corporations have set up trees set to music and one that you can actually interact.

Chicago Botanic Garden is bringing back their experiential Lightscape experience for another year. The awe-inspiring display is set along a mile-long path where visitors can admire light installations by artists from around the world. Lightscape is open on select dates from November 12, 2021 to January 2, 2022.

Morton Arboretum is wonderful place but tickets are currently sold out.

Aurora Festival of Lights One of the largest free outdoor drive-through holiday light displays in Northern Illinois, the Aurora Festival of Lights, returns for its 15th year in 2021 with dazzling displays that will delight both adults and children. The light show begins the day after Thanksgiving, Friday Nov 26, and runs through Dec 26. Sunday  through Saturday 5-9pm. Last year, the festival had over 50,000 cars. Buses are welcome too.

2 thoughts on “Decades of Chicagoland holidays”

  1. I’d never heard of a rotating Christmas tree until you mentioned your father’s creation. Practically speaking, I suppose it was nice you never had a “back” to your tree (where the decor tends to get shorted). Public Christmas displays, as with the ones you list, never cease to amaze me. Hours and hours of preparation. The Broadmoor Hotel here in Colorado Springs boasts of over a million lights on its property, with a well-attended “throw-the-switch” ceremony the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Pretty sure they have to start decorating in early October to get it all done in time.

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