It seems that Chicago simply cannot wait for Christmas and has decided to get a jump on the rest of the world by starting its celebrations early. This week alone, the lights on Michigan Avenue will be turned on, the tree in Millennium Park will be lit up, and Daley Plaza's German-style Christmas market will open its doors. And all this before Thanksgiving! If it's all too much, too soon, escape to Galena and take part in their wine festival. But don't miss the opening of Band of Bohemia, a new eatery dreamed up by a kind of restaurant supergroup.
November 19 | Restaurant opening
Band of Bohemia
What do you get when you put together a former Alinea baker, a former Alinea sommelier, a former Alinea tea and coffee expert, and an executive chef nabbed from EL Ideas? One of the most exciting restaurant openings of the fall. Band of Bohemia, in Ravenswood, bills itself as a “culinary brewhouse” and will pair its seasonal food offerings with session ales made in-house with unexpected ingredients like beets and lavender. Taking advantage of its location across the street from the new Ravenswood Metra stop, Band of Bohemia will be open at 7 a.m. serving Dark Matter Coffee to go. Those itching to make a reservation will be out of luck, though: This soon-to-be hot spot will be first-come-first-served only.
4710 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago | (773) 271-4710 | website
November 20–December 24 | Christmas market
Inspired by Germany's open-air holiday markets, Christkindlmarket takes over Daley Plaza with wooden booths topped with red-and-white-striped awnings. In a sort of cultural exchange, many of the vendors of ornaments, holiday decor, giant German steins, and other gifts come from Nuremberg, Germany just for this event. Not surprisingly, what really attracts Chicagoans (especially those who stop by after work) is the warm mulled wine served in boot-shaped souvenir mugs. Not to mention the beer, strudel, and countless varieties of sausages, pretzels, and schnitzel also on offer. German-style brass bands perform daily, adding to the festive spirit.
11 a.m.–8 p.m. (till 9 p.m. Friday & Saturday) | Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St., Chicago | Free | website
November 21 | Parade
Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
Sure, the city could just unceremoniously switch on the lights draped on the trees that line Michigan Avenue, but what’s the fun in that? Much better to have a parade along the Mag Mile, with Grand Marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse, marching bands from across the country, giant inflatables, and elaborate floats that “turn on” the lights as they pass by. Head to Pioneer Court (401 N. Michigan Ave.) starting at 11 a.m. for performances by pop musicians such as Michelle Branch and kiddie acts such as Justin Roberts & The Not Ready for Naptime Players. Then stay for the fireworks after the parade.
Parade 5:30–7 p.m. | Michigan Ave. from Oak St. to Wacker Dr., Chicago | Free | website
AFAR Local is published every Wednesday, so check back for insider updates on restaurant openings, festivals, exhibitions, shows, weekend escapes, and more. Planning a trip? The AFAR guide to Chicago has you covered.
November 24 | Festival
102nd Annual Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting
The 63-foot Colorado spruce plucked from a Northlake family’s yard is now propped up in Millennium Park and layered with lights, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel will switch on at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Opera divas Renee Fleming and Danielle de Niese will perform before the tree lighting, along with the cast of Emerald City Theatre’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. Kids patient enough to sit through the entire ceremony can visit Santa until 8 p.m.
5:30 p.m. | Millennium Park, Michigan Ave. and Washington St., Chicago | Free | website
Nouveau Wine Weekend
There are hills in our otherwise flat-as-a-pancake state, but you’ll have to drive three hours west to the Mississippi River to find them. It’s well worth it to get to Galena, one of the most charming towns in Illinois, which is situated right on the river’s banks. The town is a great destination any time of year and has long been a getaway for city dwellers seeking quaint shops, B&Bs, and sweeping views of the river. But this weekend is a particularly good time to go because you can join the town in celebrating local wineries’ nouveau harvest, with a horse-drawn wagon parade, winery and bar crawls, and prix-fixe dinners paired with this year's wines.
Times & locations vary | Galena, IL | website
Laura Baginski is a Chicago-based writer and editor who specializes in travel and parenting. Because of the latter, the former doesn't happen as much as she'd like.