Classic Chicago Christmas Traditions and the History Behind Them


By Lauren Banas, Contributing Writer

Whether we have experienced them ourselves or at least heard of them, we in Chicagoland all know at least a few classic Chicago Christmas traditions: the lighting of the great tree in Millennium Park, the wondrous holiday displays at Macy’s on State Street (or as you might better remember it, Marshall Field and Company), and the annual showing of The Nutcracker at the Roosevelt University Theatre, just to name a few. These events, among others, have defined the Chicagoland Christmas. But how long have these traditions been around, and how many Christmas memories have you made with them over the years?

Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting

As locals are well aware, the lighting of the official Christmas Tree of Chicago marks the beginning of the holiday season. Taking place in Millennium Park, this event truly involves the community. The evergreen of honor is a real tree that’s been selected from entries submitted by residents within 100 miles of the Chicago Loop.

The City’s first official Christmas Tree was lit by Mayor Carter Harrison in 1913 in Grant Park at Monroe St. and Michigan Ave – two blocks from where the tree currently stands. For 52 years, from 1913 to 1965, Chicago’s official Christmas Tree stood in various locations in Grant Park. In 1966, the tree was moved to Daley Plaza where it has been for the last 48 years. Where have you experienced this marvelous, traveling tree?

Macy’s on State Street

Formerly known as Marshall Field’s, Macy’s On State Street, 111 N State St, has continued many of the Christmas traditions that people have been celebrating at that location for decades. The Walnut Room on the 7th floor is home to the 45-foot Great Tree, which features more than 2,000 ornaments and 6,600 awe-inspiring lights, and visitors anticipate their annual helping of the restaurant’s famous chicken pot pie. Outside, visitors can take a walk along the historic State Street to see the famous holiday windows.

These whimsical holiday windows have been an annual tradition for the past 50 years. The Walnut Room celebrates its 111th-anniversary lighting this year, while the Great Tree has been a holiday tradition for 108 years. With the store’s unique blend of architecture, as well as the holiday flare of the lights and jingle bells, this storefront keeps bringing Chicagoans back with the sheer beauty of the season.

The Nutcracker

The Joffrey Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker” at the historic Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University is a holiday enchantment for all. This production that captivates with fantastical costumes, beautiful choreography, and a captivating musical track played by a live orchestra.

Since 1987, The Joffrey Ballet has brought “The Nutcracker” to Chicago. This ballet, which was first staged in 1892 in Saint Petersburg, Russia, features Tchaikovsky’s famous score played by the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra. While this production was not a success in its early years, the images of sugar plum fairies dancing through our heads slowly became one that we associate with Christmas today.

It isn’t Christmas in Chicago until the cityscape relents to the holiday wonder and beauty. However, what makes the Chicago holidays truly special aren’t the traditions themselves, but the memories we make among the twinkling lights.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Care & Comfort at Home!