The chilly winter months may be just ahead of us, but there’s nothing more magical and heartwarming than spending time with friends and loved ones to delight the heart and soul. For many, Chicago is a spectacular city with music, festivals, and events during the summer months. But ushering in the winter holiday season is a spectacle all unto itself. 

Chicago is one of the best cities in the world to spend Christmas and the holidays. If you thought that Chicago would shy away from the holiday celebrations, you’d be quite mistaken. Chicago at Christmas gets visitors and locals alike feeling merry and into the Christmas spirit being transformed from a big and fun city into a true winter wonderland that will dazzle the whole family with millions of shimmering and twinkling lights, bustling holiday crowds, towering Christmas trees and events to create the best winter wonderland ever.

The Magnificent Mile Festival of Lights

Although there was no live parade during 2020 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year on Friday, November 18, you can see and experience for yourself the return of this literally “magnificent” two-day festival and parade in downtown Chicago along the city’s iconic Magnificent Mile. Celebrating 31 years, this is considered the US’ third-largest parade and begins with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at 16:00 on Friday, November 18. This will take place at The Wrigley Building Centennial Plaza and will mark the exceptional and exciting start to this event. 

But that’s far from all! After the tree-lighting ceremony, families and loved ones will be able to enjoy live music shows and photo opportunities with Santa. You’ll also be able to catch a bite to eat – ranging from themed cuisine choices to quick bites. 

On the very next day, Saturday, November 19, you can take part in a whole lot of interactive themed activities at Lights Festival Lane. These will take place from 11:00 until 16:00. Here, you can meet Santa and his elves, shop til you drop, and so much more! Overall, there are delights and fun activities for the entire family. 

The grand finale of this spectacular event will be the Tree Lighting Parade that will take place from 17:30 until 19:00. Over one million sparkling lights on over 200 trees along 401 North Michigan Avenue will be progressively lit as marching bands, musical performers, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, celebrities, and the dispersal of giant helium balloons, lead the festival to its grand finale – the fireworks show over the Chicago River. 

This year’s participating marching bands come from all over! There’s there Archbold High School Marching Band (Archbold, Ohio), Crystal Lake Strikers Drumline (Crystal Lake, Illinois), East Forsyth High School Band (Gainesville, Georgia), and the Vandalia-Butler High School Marching Band (Vandalia, Ohio). Meanwhile, some of the live concerts that will be held during the afternoon have previously featured the Radio Disney Road Crew and Crystal Bowersox of American Idol. 

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade 

But that’s not where the fun and excitement end! Just one week later, on Thursday, November 24, you’ll be able to delight in the fun and entertainment-filled three hours, which represent the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade. An iconic holiday event, it has a rich history that started as far back as 1934. The annual procession will move down State Street between Ida B. Wells Drive and Randolph Street. It will start at 08:00 and finish by 11:00. Around 156 light poles right in the heart of Chicago on State Street will be adorned with parade banners.

But let’s travel in time a bit before we give you a sneak peek of what you can expect. Going 88 years back, it may be interesting to know that the parade started as a Christmas Caravan in the city, hoping to lift the citizens’ spirits after the Great Depression. Since then, the parade has grown from strength to strength, noting over 1.5 million spectators reveling in the fun at one point in time. 

Some of the performances you can expect to entertain you this year include the return of the WoldStrides high school marching bands from all across the US. And in addition to this, you’ll also love the over 100 different “units” walking down the parade route. These will feature giant inflatables (balloons), floats, equestrian units, staged performances, and guest appearances. In fact, apart from marching bands from across the US participating, performers at this year’s event will come from a multitude of countries including Switzerland, Mexico, Australia, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Canada, and more! And with over 1,500 volunteers working behind the scenes to make it a success, it’s truly a delight to behold. 

Some of the featured specialty parade superstars you can expect this year include the Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox, Toronto Dance Company, Shanghai Ballet Company, Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks, June Lawrence School of Dance, and the Hong Kong Dance Company, amongst multiple others.

But the event wouldn’t be complete without the delightful appearance of Teddy Turkey – the parade’s friendly mascot. Helping spread the holiday cheer throughout the year, you can catch Teddy Turkey, snap some pics, and enjoy his company. And after all’s been said and done, you’ll be able to go home to your loved ones and still have time to prepare your Thanksgiving meal. 

But how do I get there?

Whether you’re coming from out of town or you live in or around Chicago, the Festival of Lights along The Magnificent Mile and the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade are unmissable events for the month of November in Chicago. Of course, it’s worth remembering that many streets will be closed to vehicular transport, parking spaces will be limited with such a high volume of visitors, and traffic is inevitable. If this is something you’re concerned about, there is a solution!

At Bus Connection, you can always rely on us for any and all your transportation needs. Whether you’re traveling with a group of friends or you’re part of a tourist group from another part of the country or even from abroad, we’ll get you to the right location on time every time. Don’t let transportation concerns get in the way of enjoying these marvelous and unforgettable family experiences. They’re an incredible opportunity to usher in the holiday season and looking for a parking spot should be the last of your concerns.