Get a head start on your winter holiday celebrations in Chicago this week. First, Merchandise Mart has been transformed into a temporary holiday store, where you can find something for everyone on your list. Then head to Lincoln Park Zoo, where the decorations blow any residential block out of the water. Dance along (yes, you) to The Nutcracker at the Chicago Cultural Center after learning a few moves from Ballet Chicago, and cap off the week with Christmas carols at Cloud Gate.

AFAR Local is our weekly insider guide to the best of what’s happening in cities around the U.S.

December 1 - 4 | Shop
One of a Kind Show and Sale Chicago
Imagine a physical version of the e-commerce site Etsy, and you’ve essentially hit on the One of a Kind Show and Sale. More than 600 artists will be selling clothing, home decor, food, and accessories here. Plus, there will be an Etsy Pavilion, where you can shop from real Etsy sellers (we’re willing to bet that a majority of the other hundreds of sellers are also selling their wares on the popular site, too). Merchandise Mart is huge, but it’ll be filled to the brim with more than 65,000 people browsing for gifts.
Merchandise Mart, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago | $12 | website

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December 2 | Caroling
Christmas Carols
What’s Christmas without Christmas caroling? Cloud Gate, better known as “the bean,” acts as a home base for carolers every Friday this month. Each week, a different group will be featured: the Chicago Children’s Choir on December 2, the British International School of Chicago on December 9, and the Holiday Pops Chicago Chorus on December 16. Plus, the bean is located right next to the Magnificent Mile, which is known for its shopping opportunities, so you can look for gifts before or after you sing.
6:00 PM - 7:00 PM | Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago | Free | website

December 2 - 4 | Holiday lights
ZooLights
Lincoln Park Zoo has transformed into a veritable holiday wonderland complete with giant light displays, Santa, live ice sculpture carving, and crafts making. There will also be carousel and train rides, talks, and, of course, animals (this is the zoo, after all). The kids will love it, and the adults can reward themselves for sticking it out in the cold with mulled wine and lagers—truly the perfect holiday outing for the whole family.
4:30 PM - 9:00 PM | Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago | Free | website

One of a Kind Show and Sale

December 2 - 4 | Escape the city
Dickens of a Christmas Weekend
Spend a whole weekend celebrating the holidays in the small Wisconsin city of Ripon, where there’s a Victorian-themed Christmas festival. Enter the Dickens of a Christmas Weekend enchanted forest and take part in a gingerbread house making contest and a fruitcake taste test. And check out the quilt show, carriage rides, and live reindeer. If you need a break from the holiday vibe, head to Vines & Rushes Winery, which serves excellent local wine at its taproom on County Road.
Times & locations vary | Free | website

December 4 | Dance
Dance-along Nutcracker
The Chicago Cultural Center is giving wannabe ballerinas of all ages the chance to step up on stage and leap, twist, and twirl to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Game dancers will pirouette alongside ballerinas from Ballet Chicago, an internationally recognized school of ballet. There’s no experience required to join, but Ballet Chicago dancers will be teaching free beginner lessons an hour before each performance for those amateur dancers who want to come in more prepared.
12:00 PM | Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., Chicago | Free | website

Danielle Braff lives in Chicago with her husband, two daughters, two cats, and her dog. When she’s not writing, she’s out photographing her city and running around frantically trying to fit as many events as she can into her day. You can check out her other articles at Daniellebraff.com.

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