Chicago Christmas shows and other magic

  • Nutcracker Ballet  My first experience with the Nutcracker Ballet was actually at the Goodman Theater when I was six not sure who actually performed the ballet. I was taking ballet lessons at the time and was disappointed. I would never be able to stand on my toes like professional dancers. My first experience with the Joffrey Ballet was not in Chicago but in New York in the late 1970’s seeing the Nutcracker Ballet. However,  The Joffrey’s modernization that premiered last year re- imagines The Nutcracker set in a modest Chicago home rather than in a wealthy family’s mansion taking place just a few months before the Columbia Exposition in 1893.
  • Christmas Carol   My first experience with a Christmas Carol ended up with a broken arm and an overnight stay in a hospital. That is what we did in 1966 after I tripped on a step at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook; attending The Christmas Carol for my best friends birthday. The play is the heartwarming story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s discovery of kindness, compassion and redemption. Currently, you can purchase tickets at The Goodman Theatre.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life  Not only a wonderful movie with Jimmy Stewart, you can also see the radio play. American Blues Ensemble treats Chicago audiences to a live 1940s radio broadcast and has been the second longest running play in Chicago. The play is about 90 minutes and the production closes on January 5th.
  • Holiday Inn  Based on the classic film,Irving Berlin’s tells the story of Jim, who leaves the bright lights of show business behind to settle down on his farmhouse in Connecticut. Running about two hours and 30 minutes, the plays offers some great dances and songs including Heat Wave, and Blue Skies at the new Marriott Lincolnshire and performances are scheduled until January 6th.
  • Wonderland Express  Always a favorite of mine during the spring and summer, I had no idea that they had an amazing display for the winter holidays; one of Chicago’s top holiday destination. Walking through the Heritage garden, there are beautifully lit trees. You will see a gingerbread village and when you enter Nichols Hall, there are an abundance of trains even Thomas the tank engine. The city of Chicago is in miniature with over 80 buildings. It is also snowing inside though certainly not with frigid temperatures. The snow is 99 percent water with just a touch of vegetable oil so you can safely catch them in your mouth.

Decades of holiday decorations

Growing up on the south side of Chicago in the early 1960’s, for my Dad, it was the Christmas 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.

And then during the 1980’s and 1990’s, Christmas became more involved with my own little ones and the art of decorating traveled outdoors. I also worked for Christmas Around the World part-time and still have the manger scene today. Now, it wasn’t about just the Christmas tree, though we did have a perfect cathedral ceiling foyer to show off our large green, fake tree. It was about the entire house even changing out the art work to celebrate the holiday. It was about stringing lights to frame the garage and wrapping the garage with ribbon.

And the new millennium came and it was still about Christmas trees, though now we had switched to white lights and lace lights trimmed the porch and frame.  The fake tree finally fell apart and still in the same house with the cathedral ceiling all these years, we are back to a real tree from Home Depot and unfortunately, not quite as large. Though the indoor decorations have remained, the outdoor lights have broken, wreaths have withered, faded, a wooden replica of Rudolph has lost its leg and Santa flying his sleigh with his plastic reindeer have seen much better days.

As for this year specifically, I have had help, we have scaled back as far as outdoor decorations though the weather in Chicago has been unseasonably warm.  A deck decorated in lights from last year still works and flower pots from summer are left in their spots filled now with fake poinsettia leaves and maybe other items from the dollar store.  An easy fix.

It is a little sad for me as I leave for work everyday and think …..hmmm….maybe today when I come home, I will add a few more decorations outside. Though I haven’t yet.

But when I do leave in the morning, it is strange that the sign of hope by my driveway seems to be especially illuminated with light from the sun, sky or the spirit world. Every morning it gives off an unusual brilliance….a special message.

Many friends and family have passed away through the decades, and maybe this is there way of telling me that it doesn’t matter what kind of costly decorations we have to celebrate the holiday season, as long as we share the sign of hope with others, there is nothing else that is more vibrant….more important! There is always hope if we truly believe.

Holidays in Chicago: Lighting the Tree

In December 1956, Chicago’s Christmas tree was in fact one large tree that had been created from many smaller trees. The tree was 70 feet tall, decorated with about 4,400 lights and more than 2,000 ornaments, and was located in the Grant Park tree platform at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue. The Tree Lighting Ceremony was eventually  moved to Civic Center Plaza, known today as Daley Plaza, in December 1966.

That was where I remembered the beauty of the tree.I was shocked that the tree was so tall because there was more than one tree bundled together. Each year I kept looking up trying to figure out how this all worked and the time it must have taken. I remember going to see the tree with many waiting regardless of the weather. I remember that first gasp we all made together as the lights came on. Over a 100 year tradition that we celebrated and eventually the tree lighting came in tandem with the magical Christmaskindlemart.

Chicago’s first municipal Christmas tree was lit in 1913 on Christmas Eve by Mayor Carter H. Harrison in Grant Park. The tree was a 35-foot Douglas Spruce placed on 40-foot poles and studded with smaller trees to give the appearance of a much larger tree. It was decorated with 600 multi-colored lights and topped with the Star of Bethlehem according to the City of Chicago.org.

The first Christmas tree was a gift of an associate of Captain Herman Scheunemann and was lit in his honor. He was the captain of the Rouse Simmons, known as the “Christmas Tree Ship.” The ship was lost in a storm in Lake Michigan on November 23, 1912.

In the 1990s, the cost of constructing the tree with individual trees was astronomical  So  the city asked for donations of single, massive trees.  In 2008 one family actually donated a 70 foot tree.

Enjoy this holiday tradition, a glittering tree set among Chicago’s sparkling skyline and the iconic art of Millennium Park. The City of Chicago is proud to present the 104th Anniversary of the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday, November 17. Chicago’s 104th Christmas Tree was donated by Darlene Dorfler of Grayslake, Illinois. The 62-foot Norway Spruce was selected out of 71 submissions received by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

The ceremony will be emceed by WGN TV’s Demetrius Ivory and Erin Ivory along with a special appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Admission to the Tree Lighting Ceremony and all other holiday activities in Millennium Park is free.

The Christmas Tree will remain up until Saturday, January 6, 2018.

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