From turkey to tinsel
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, now's the time to start planning for
these hot holiday happenings
Sat 19, 6pm. Magnificent Mile (N Michigan Ave between Oak St and the Chicago River). The parade that kicks off the holiday season culminates in a fireworks show over the river. Afterward, head to State Street to check out the last Marshall Field's holiday window display (thru Jan 8) before the store becomes a Macy's next year.
The Santa Abductions
Thurs-Sat at 8pm through Dec 23. Neo-Futurarium (5153 N Ashland Ave, 773-275-5255). $15. Warning: If you still believe in Santa Claus, we cannot recommend Sean Benjamin's The Santa Abductions. You're simply too tender-hearted for this story of a man who discovers his mother lied to him about St. Nick and goes on a rampage. Fringe troupe The Neo-Futurists presents a straight-ahead Christmas play, fictional characters and all. Sean Daniels of Atlanta's innovative Gen-X theater Dad's Garage directs.
A Christmas Carol
A dead accountant, a kid with a limp and Mr. Fezziwig help a bachelor find the true meaning of the season in the best Christmas story ever told. Chicago audiences can find it in all forms: classic (the Goodman's 28th annual ; Sun 19-Dec 26, 170 N Dearborn St, 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org); storefront (the hard-working Provision Theater ; Nov 27-Dec 30 at the Theatre Building, 1225 W Belmont Ave, 773-327-5252); suburban (the always-busy Metropolis Performing Arts Centre ; Nov 25-Dec 24, 111 W Campbell St, Arlington Heights); and beatnik ( HeadCheese FatBoss Productions' unassailably cool coffeehouse treatment The Hipmas Carol; Dec 8-23 at the Raven Theatre, 6157 N Clark St, 773-539-2915).
The Joffrey Ballet reprises its classic treatment of The Nutcracker Dec 14-28 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E Congress Pkwy, www.joffrey.com), but this year it's not the only sugar plum fairy in town. Noble Horse Theatre offers a bona fide hoofers version, The Nutcracker on Horseback , through Jan 8 (1410 N Orleans St, 312-266-7878). Hip children's theater company Emerald City teams with kiddie pop king Ralph Covert for the tot-rocking ANutcracker Christmas Nov 20-Dec 31 at the Apollo Theater (2540 N Lincoln Ave, 773-935-6100, www.emeraldcitytheatre.com). And Incurable Theater opts for puppets, masks and marionettes in The Nutcracker and the King of Mice Dec 2-Jan 8 at the Cultural Center's Studio Theater (77 E Randolph St, www.incurabletheater.org).
The Santaland Diaries
Nov 25-Dec 31 at the Theatre Building (1225 W Belmont Ave, 773-327-5252). $22-$24. Lovers of David Sedaris's poisonous Christmas card deserve a heads up: This version stars Joe Foust. More of a hoodlum than a scrawny NPR scribe, Foust ferociously attacks the now-famous memoir of the reluctant Macy's elf. Gone are the sour Truman Capote sighs; in their place a series of bratty South Park rants. But there's still great fun to be had in Theater Wit's version, which is back for its second year.
Goose Island Turkey Trot
Nov 24, 9am. Cannon Dr and Fullerton Pkwy (773-404-2372, www.caprievents.com). With preregistration $28, day of race $33; Kids' Plymouth Rock ramble with preregistration $15, day of race $12. This 8K run/walk, sponsored by the brewery and the running-apparel store Momentum, benefits the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Runners are also asked to bring two (or more) cans of food when they pick up their race packets at Goose Island or Momentum.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Nov 25–Dec 24. Rosemont Theatre (5400 N River Rd, www.ticketmaster.com). $24.50–$56.50. We'll let you decide whether the leggy, high-kicking, supermodel-quality Rockettes constitute wholesome family entertainment or holiday hotties on parade. All we know is that this touring company of New York's favorite precision-dance troupe kicks our candy asses.
The Reindeer Monologues
Nov 25–Dec 23. Theatre Building (1225 W Belmont Ave, 773-327-5252). $20. There's no gentle way to put this: The central question of this play is whether or not Santa is molesting his reindeer. In an Enron-size scandal, Kris Kringle's eight closest employees disclose the details of their intimate encounters with the boss man. A prime example of how the alternative becomes the mainstream, this piece by formerly Chicago-based playwright Jeff Goode debuted here in 1994 (produced by the long-since-gone Dolphinback). This production by the Journeymen is the company's fifth annual.
Nov 25–Dec 11, Fri–Sun, 5–9pm; Dec 16–Jan 1, daily, 5–9pm. Lincoln Park Zoo (2200 N Cannon Dr, 312-742-2000, www.lpzoo.com). Free. The zoo stays open late through the holidays, guiding evening visitors along its winding pathways with a sprawling, illuminated display of animal figures and other designs that puts even the most insane suburban holiday house decorator to shame. If the lights leave you dazed, the hot cider and chainsaw-wielding ice-sculptors are sure to wake you up.
Old World grub and pubs
The city's Northern Euro roots represent best around the holidays, when Daley Plaza(Washington and Dearborn Sts) is transformed into Nürnberg's famed Christkindlmarket (Nov 24–Dec 22) and Andersonville breaks out the glögg . Downtown, warm your hands while you shop with a cup of the Glunz Family's gluwein, then feast on brats, potato pancakes and strudel. Or head north to Simon's Tavern (5210 N Clark St, 773-878-0894), where owner Scott Martin pours his house-made glögg, concocted from a century-old recipe. Martin's dad, Tom, might tie one on with you while singing carols, or catch him up at his Svea Restaurant (5236 N Clark St, 773-275-7738) offering free cups of the warmed, spiced port to diners indulging in the Swedish Christmas platter: cheese, veal loaf, meatballs, potato sausage withlingonberries, pickled herring and more.
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
Nov 30-Dec 31 at American Theater Company (1909 W Byron St, 773-929-1031). $25-$30. The '70s and '80s were good to Frank Capra's three-hankie soaper. The film rights lapsed into the public domain in 1974 when the copyright wasn't renewed, so television stations were able to air it royalty-free. And they did: every waking minute from Thanksgiving to New Years. After a 1993 lawsuit, though, the rights were pinned back (NBC currently has them and conservatively airs it only once or twice a year). Chicagoans were obviously craving a George Bailey fix, as last year American Theatre Company's old-timey radio version became an unexpected hit. It's now back for year two.
Hot cocoa loco
Half the fun of heading out into the cold is warming up again, and there's no more decadent way to do so than with seasonal hot chocolate. Luckily, Chicago is swimming in the stuff. In December, the aptly named HotChocolate (1747 N Damen Ave, 773-489-1747) will throw an eggnog variety into its already impressive list of liquid bliss. Bombon Café (36 S Ashland Ave, 312-733-8717) gets in on the action with the traditional cinnamon-packed champurrado, a thick Mexican variety of the chocolatey stuff. And the Ritz-Carlton (160 E Pearson St, 312-573-5223) will hook up extreme chocolate fans with a bowl of its rich Paris-inspired version, flanked by homemade marshmallows, chocolate shavings, whipped cream and a healthy dose of Francophilia.
Spa Space's Peppermint Patty Body Wrap
161 N Canal St (312-466-9585). $160. Spa Space has the antidote to mall madness: A therapist exfoliates ribbon dust, wrapping-paper cuts and dead skin cells with a full-body rub using a peppermint-sugar scrub. Next, a hydrating chocolate mask is painted on, and you're wrapped up mummy-style while enjoying a head, neck and shoulder massage that's sure to knead away gift-giving anxiety. Finally, a hydrating chocolate-mint–scented lotion is rubbed into your limbs, and you're sent back to the trenches with a steaming hot cup of cocoa.
Art of the Ornament Benefit
Dec 2, 5–8pm. Merchandise Mart (222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, 800-677-6278, www.chicagoartfoundation.com). $25. With visions of a museum dancing in its head, the Chicago Art Foundation is hosting a silent auction featuring one-of-a-kind handmade tree decorations. More than 100 artists are donating pieces. Paul Nudd is making a small edition of a Shrinky Dinks yule-log ornament; Tony Fitzpatrick has created six different ornaments with his signature images printed on a fibrous plastic called Sintra. Proceeds from the evening also benefit Pediatric AIDS Chicago.
Black Nativity: A Gospel Song Play
Dec 2–31 at the Goodman Theatre (170 N Dearborn St, 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org). $35-$45. Congo Square Theatre finds a great gift in its stocking this year: Although the African-American company is still mourning the loss of Pulitzer-winner August Wilson, it received some good news recently: in accordance with the playwright's will, it's the only theater company allowed to receive donations in Wilson's name. If you've never seen the very young (founded in 2000) but highly successful company, its return engagement of Langston Hughes' Black Nativity is a great introduction. Performed in the Goodman's intimate Owen Theatre, it's giving neighbor Scrooge a run for his precious money.
Toys for bad girls and boys
TULIP, 1480 W Berwyn Ave, 773-275-6110. On Friday 2, Andersonville's luxe, adults-only toy gallery TULIP (along with most of the 'hood's shops) stays open late and tempts with special discounts, including 10 percent off purchases between 6pm and midnight. On Tuesday 6, haul your ass to TULIP for "Booty Call for the Holidays," at which tips, techniques and health info regarding anal play will be shared. (As far as we know, none involves unorthodox uses of candy canes.)
Chicago a cappella
Dec 2, 8pm. Fourth Presbyterian Church (126 E Chestnut St, 312-787-4570). $22-$35. One nationality is never enough for this group, which presents music from Africa, Sweden, Venezuela and Renaissance Italy. It also piles on Hanukkah songs, spirituals and traditional carols. For all the lip service given to diversity, this group lives it.
William Ferris Chorale
Dec 2, 8pm. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church (690 W Belmont Ave, 773-525-0453). A longtime player on the Christmas-music scene, this hearty, full-blooded ensemble has always taken the side road in whatever it does. This year is no exception: It'll perform The Mystery of Bethlehem by Canadian composer Healey Willan. It'll also sing a fair amount of carols and Renaissance (i.e., Catholic) polyphony. Fear not—the new music it performs never comes close to painful.
Tree-lighting ceremony at Daley Plaza
On Thanksgiving night, work off that turkey and stuffing by heading downtown for the lighting of Daley Plaza's 85-foot tree at 5pm (live music starts at 4pm). The giant pine is actually made from lots of small trees bundled together.
Judy's Scary Little Chrstmas
Dec 3–31. Strawdog Theatre (3829 N Broadway, 773-528-9696). $15–$20. There was a time when Christmas meant "special," and "special" meant an odd hour of prime-time television in which turtleneck-clad celebrities sang their favorite carols in front of a faux fireplace and strands of popcorn. To the drag satirists of Hell in a Handbag Productions, those celebs are gods worthy of idolatry (and the fabulous drug addictions are simply gravy). Here, Judy Garland's celebrity Christmas special (guests include Joan Crawford and Ethel Merman) gets roasted like so many chestnuts.
North pole dancing
As the winter chill sets in and you grow tired of layering on turtlenecks, sweaters and long underwear, learn sexy new ways to take it all off. On Monday 5, Miss Exotic World, a.k.a. Michelle "Toots" Lamour, will be at g boutique (2131 N Damen, 773-235-1234) to teach a sensual strip tease, "Santa Baby Burlesque" ($30). And it's not just the ladies who risk winding up on Santa's naughty list: Wednesday 14 is g boutique's Men's Night, complete with martinis, models and numerous gift suggestions related to stuffing your sweetheart's... stocking.
Hanukkah Lights: Stories of the Season
Dec 7, 6pm. Harold Washington Library Center(400 S State St, 312-747-4300). $8–$10. NPR stalwart Susan Stamberg and some Chicago actors perform staged readings of original stories collected from the annual public radio show Hanukkah Lights. The book, like the show, eschews the usual holiday schmaltz for contemporary stories.
Dec 7, 7pm. Joe's (940 W Weed St, 312-337-3486). $20. With 11 local comics (including Frank Townsend, TJ Miller and Hannibal) and two salsa bands, this stand-up showcase can only be described as a blowout. Producer Mikey Oquendo always drums up a huge, eager crowd, and he gets the enormous room pumping with plenty of preshow house music and inexpensive beer. Ten charities will benefit from the money raised.
Los Straitjackets and The World Famous Pontani Sisters Christmas Pageant
Dec 2–3, 9:30pm. FitzGerald's, 6615 W Roosevelt Rd, Berwyn (708-788-2118). $15. Los Straitjackets's annual show would be a delight even with the volume turned down. Who can argue with three scantily clad ladies doing synchronized steps while four men in masks play early '60s instrumental rock & roll À la the Ventures.
Apollo Chorus Messiah
Dec 10, 2pm, Symphony Center, Orchestra Hall (224 S Michigan Ave, 312-294-3000). Dec 18, 3pm, Harris Theater (205 E Randolph Dr, 312-334-7777). The granddaddy of Chicago Christmas traditions ho-ho-hos its way downtown for the annual singing of Handel's Messiah. In the luster of Orchestra Hall, surrounded by your fellow parka-clad citizens, you'll find that nothing can cure the (potential) holiday doldrums like Messiah, especially when you hear it along with 2,000 other people. Conductor Stephen Alltop is well known around here for his choral expertise, and with him leading the affair, your traditional Messiah is in good hands (and voices).
Concert for Peace: Transcending Aggression
Dec 13, 7:30pm. Harris Theater (205 E Randolph Dr, 312-334-7777). Strictly speaking, this isn't a Christmas concert, but it is Fulcrum Point's annual Concert for Peace, and that's close enough. Stephen Burns brings in his usual wide-ranging set of composers to celebrate peace from a variety of ethnic viewpoints. On the American side are Lou Harrison and John Harbison, who both contribute works for small ensemble and voice. Baritone Timothy Jones takes on the voice duties, surrounded by two trumpets, percussion and strings in Harbison's "Ain't Goin' to Study War No Mo'" and by strings only in Harrison's "Peace Piece Three: Little Song on the Atom Bomb."
Music of the Baroque
Dec 16, 8pm. St. Michael's Church (1633 N Cleveland Ave, 312-551-1414). The brass section of MoB largely comes from the Chicago Symphony, or its former members, which puts these concerts into the strongly recommended column. It's not the usual fare of carols, either, but traditional works that still sound like the holidays, and they all predate the time of J.S. Bach. German composer Michael Praetorius's "Es ist ein Rose entsprungen" ("Lo, How a Rose is Blooming") will sound plenty familiar, along with the booming Gabrieli and touching work by Heinrich Schütz that MoB plans.
Tidings of Tap
Dec 16–18. Vittum Theatre (1012 N Noble St, 773-655-1175, www.chicagotaptheatre.com). $15–$25. Tired of shelling out for the Nutcracker? Chicago Tap Theatre does the holidays Savion Glover-style with a tap-dance showcase including pieces with Christmas, Hanukkah and winter themes, all of it backed by jazz and holiday music.
Santa Rampage on bikes
Dec 18, noon. Meet at Twisted Spoke (501 N Ogden Ave, 312-666-1500). Free. Don your Santa cap and beard, take a nip (or a few hundred) of some grog, and get ready to pedal through the streets of downtown Chicago in the wildest bicycle party of the winter. The folks who participate in this raucous roll are a rowdy bunch, so expect a heckuva lot of naughty behavior. After all, the ride takes place a full week before Christmas, so Santa has plenty of time to recover from his wicked hangover.
Music Box holiday sing-along: White Christmas and It's aWonderful Life
Dec 21–24. Music Box Theatre (3733 N Southport Ave, 773-871-6604). $10–$15. For the last 22 years, the Music Box has marked the holidays with a special showing of these two seasonal classics, with a sing-along thrown in for good measure. It's a Wonderful Life obviously doesn't lend itself much to singing, but White Christmas has just the right note of campiness and easy-to-remember lyrics. During the intermission, Saint Nick leads a sing-along with a little help from organist Mark Noller.
Winter solstice sunrise concerts
Dec 21–23, 6am. Links Hall Studio (3435 N Sheffield Ave, second floor, 773-871-5318). $15. Who said jazz musicians don't wake up early? For the 15th straight year, experimental percussionists Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake will welcome the winter solstice with sunrise ritual concerts, beginning at 6am on three consecutive mornings. The duo will perform hour-long, structured improvisation with instruments from North Africa, the Middle East and East India, and a frame drum that has roots in ancient Mesopotamia. Affection between the players runs deep (Zerang calls Drake "one of the greatest drummers alive today"), but it's their sensitivity to how many universes of sound are in a drum that will coax us out of bed.
Dining out on Christmas Eve
Not everyone has the luxury of a Norman Rockwell Christmas feast—or the desire to have one. For us, a memorable tradition involves letting someone else do the work, and for that we rely on some of the city's best chefs. Chef Randy Zweiban of Nacional 27 (325 W Huron St, 312-664-2727) injects Cuban flavor into the $40, four-course Christmas Eve spread with options like roasted suckling pig, bacalao fritters and drunken sponge cake. For American-style indulgence, the romantic Christmas Eve candlelight dinner at mk the restaurant (868 N Franklin St, 312-482-9179) is tough to beat. Forget the boughs of holly; mk will be decked out with Périgord black truffle pasta, tuna tartare and roasted Hudson Valley duck. And if you're looking for A Christmas Story–style tradition, head for Chinatown and take your pick of spots notoriously Anglo-packed on the Christian holiday. We suggest Mandarin Kitchen (2143 S Archer Ave, 312-328-0228) for the soul-warming hot pots, but don't expect any mangled renditions of "Deck the Halls."
Hanukkah on Devon
A menorah and some candles are as close as Walgreens, but if you want to celebrate with traditional foods, head to Devon. There, Tel-AvivBakery (2944 W Devon Ave, 773-764-8877) will bake Hanukkah cookies and sufganiot, those delectable Israeli jelly doughnuts. Next door, you'll find latkes in an unlikely place: Good Morgan Kosher Fish Market (2948 W Devon Ave, 773-764-8115), where, come December 24, cooks will shred potatoes and onions on a daily basis to make fresh, warm latkes. Don't want to trek that far north? Ina's (1235 W Randolph St, 312-226-8227) will serve latkes, brisket and matzo-ball soup in the West Loop.
The Girlie-Q Variety Hour'sHo-Ho-Holiday Follies
Nov 27; door at 7pm, show at 8pm. HotHouse, 31 E Balbo Dr (312-362-9707). $10, 21 and up. Get ready to add a little ho to your holidays. This queer-themed variety show mixes vaudeville, striptease and burlesque with a nod to spoken word, drag, performance art and, of course, Santa Claus. Performers including Titi Touche, Bevvie O'Bosom and Miss Bea Haven "dive into issues that are political, sexy, thoughtful, funny and personal."
The Second City'sDysfunctional Holiday Revue
Thurs–Sun, Nov 25–Dec 30. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W Campbell St, Arlington Heights (847-577-2121). $22–$27. The theater's touring company, a group of up-and-coming performers who travel the world bringing the Second City gospel to the masses, puts on this holiday-themed show of classic sketches and improvisation.
Kosher Fish Market
(2948 W Devon Ave, 773-764-8115), where, come December 24, cooks will shred potatoes and onions on a daily basis to make fresh, warm latkes. Don't want to trek that far north? Ina's (1235 W Randolph St, 312-226-8227) will serve latkes, brisket and matzo-ball soup in the West Loop.