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December in Chicago. Festive Holiday Frolics

Frank Brichetto

Chicago Correspondent

December is upon us, my fellow adventurers, and that means so many things: long nights, winter weather, and all the holiday celebrations to bring us together as we end this year and start fresh yet again. Please note that our adventures this month still require masks, and many require tickets, which we need to get in advance, online.  Don’t forget!

But we don’t need tickets to stroll around State Street and Michigan Avenue to take in the holiday displays, gaze at the goods from around the world, and marvel yet again at the beauty and diversity of Chicago’s skyline and architecture.  So let’s do that right now, shall we?  Meet us at the Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, today, Friday, December 3rd, about 5:30pm, and we’ll stare at Chicago’s Christmas tree and join the “Holiday Sing Along”. It only lasts an hour, and they provide songbooks, so let’s help make some “joyous noise” to start the Christmas season and then just walk around for an hour or two, enjoying the company of good friends the way we always do.  Are you ready yet? Finished all that shopping and holiday planning? Oh look, here’s the Chriskindlmarket at Daley Plaza, 50 W Washington St. where we can get our souvenir mugs filled with hot chocolate and spiced glühwein before we get on the “L” and head home.

Wednesday, December 8th, is the only free day remaining in 2021 for the Museum of Science and Industry, https://www.msichicago.org/, and it’s likely to be busy, so let’s get there early.  The doors open at 9:30am, and once we’re checked in, let’s head right to the Christmas Around the World displays. Yes, we come here every year, and no we’re never bored by our repeat visits. This started with a single tree, way back in 1942, during the middle of World War II, as a way to help lift Chicagoans’ spirits during the gloom of war and winter. They have been doing this ever since, and it just gets better every year. For 2021 the celebrations are expanded to include “Holidays of Lights”, and the Boeing 727, the Pioneer Zephyr, and other exhibits are decorated to enhance our holiday spirits, and introduce us to Christmas and winter holiday traditions from around the world. Isn’t this cool? Let’s ask and see if anyone knows exactly how many special holiday lights have been put up for us to enjoy.

The Grand Tree lights up at 10:30am, that’s just a few minutes away, are you ready? Camera’s up! WOW! Isn’t that spectacular? It’s stunning, I agree.

While we’re here, let’s find the Fairy Castle; it’s been here since 1949 and yet we’ve never taken time to see it.  Coleen Moore, a famous and fashionable movie actress from the silent movie era, “assembled a legion of her industry colleagues to help craft this miniature home of fantastic proportions. She shared it during the Great Depression, touring the country to raise funds for children’s charities.”

Look at all those details in the building: the Dining Room is complete with King Arthur’s Round Table, the plates and tableware are real gold and the glasses are genuine crystal.  The tapestries on the wall are genuine needlepoint on this very small scale, depicting the Knights’ adventures. Holy cow!  All the rooms are like this. Just beautiful.  Now, step back and look at the whole thing; it really is a fairy castle, isn’t it?

But the museum is all about SCIENCE, let’s not forget, so keep on schedule because we’re about to witness the workings of a real Tesla Coil. All the way back in 1891 Nikola Tesla invented his famous coils as a step in developing power transmission that would electrify the world without stringing wires all over the place. Tesla coils are still in use today in more modest applications, and here, look at the showers of electric sparks and arcs that are created when the coils generate AC power in the millions of volts. His invention led the way to wireless radio transmission, beginning with the radio telegraph, all the way up to today’s 5G broadband streaming services. Here is how it all began.  Curiosity, intelligence and science are vividly on display.

We can take in a few more exhibits before we head home; drive safely and we’ll see you next week.

Tonight, Saturday, December 11th, it’s time to visit “Lightscape” at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, https://www.chicagobotanic.org/lightscape.  It’s a bright, vibrant, wonderfully creative show of lights laced through the trees and structures of the Gardens. Listen? Do you hear the Singing Trees? Let’s sing along! Do you feel the spirit of the Winter Cathedral? It’s so moving to be under these lighted arches, and at the same time to see stars and feel winter’s wind.  Even though it’s less than two miles long, and takes only forty-five minutes or so, it’s quite magical; exciting and reassuring at the same time.

Hasn’t this been fun? Let’s grab some hot chocolate and chat a while before we head home.

The Art Institute, https://www.artic.edu/, is always one of our favorite places, and today, Thursday, December 16th, is one of the last free days (for Illinois residents) this year, so let’s take the afternoon off from work and head on over. We’ll stroll the collections, admire works from around the globe and across the millennia; ancient Greek and Roman statuary always amaze me. How long did it take a Greek sculptor, using hand tools, carving and polishing marble stone, to create a life-size statue of a goddess striding confidently towards the viewer in such astonishing detail?

Contemporary art has its appeal, too, so let’s head over to the Contemporary Exhibit to take in works that will let us examine materials and techniques that look simple, but see? Look more closely at Jasper John’s Target”, can you see how the oil and encaustic that he used leave the brush marks and deeper strokes raised off the canvass? Isn’t that a unique way to look at a common image like a target and view it less, rather than more, abstractly?

You know, we haven’t gone ice skating yet, so today, Saturday, December 18th, is the perfect day for all of us, kids included, to head down to Navy Pier for Light up the Lake, https://navypier.org/light-up-the-lake/.  Look at this place! It’s a huge indoor light show, do you believe that tree is forty feet tall? There are over 600,000 lights here.  Yes, we came to skate, right here, on this ice rink. We can put our stuff in these lockers and get right on the ice. Hey, your kids can skate! Oh boy, this is fun, but I’m still not a worthy skater. Let’s head over to the Merry Main Street where the younger children can ride the mini-train to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus, then we’ll all cruise through the quaint huts where toymakers, entertainers, and shopkeepers display their “seasonal wares, novelties, treats and unique holiday gifts.” The rest of the Pier is open as well, and we even get a ride on the Ferris Wheel! Is it clear enough to see Michigan? Don’t worry, the gondolas are fully enclosed and even heated.

Are the cookies baked? Are the presents wrapped? Or are you both about to spend most of the night on hands and knees assembling piles of small parts into recognizable toys for your adorable children? Good luck! It’s Christmas Eve my friends, Friday, December 24th, and everyone is waiting for Santa to bring a few well deserved presents. Hooray! Place them carefully around that gorgeous tree of yours and pray the cats don’t pull things down before the kids get up in the morning.

Today, Christmas Day, Saturday, December 25th, is about gathering family around and celebrating. While we receive gifts of love and appreciation from our friends and family, let’s remember the gifts of the Magi, presented to the newborn Messiah, and remember the promise of “Peace on Earth, good will towards men.” Don’t forget to overeat, play a few table games, watch some football, and for heaven’s sake let Uncle Steve sleep in his favorite chair undisturbed. Have a great and wonder-filled day.

This is it! Friday, December 31th, New Year’s Eve, the last night of 2021, so how about meeting us at Giacomo’s Ristorante, http://giacomostogo.com/, 740 N. Wolf Rd., Des Plaines, for a truly excellent Italian repast to celebrate the old year’s end, and the new year’s beginning? Arrive hungry, because everything is just delicious. Appetizers? Let’s order the Calamari and Antipasto Italiano to share. Tonight I think I’ll have the Capellini (angel hair) pasta with Italian sausage and that spicy Arrabbiata sauce. You might like the Gnocchi, and the Lasagna is always superb. For dessert, the Cannoli usually catches my eye, but tonight let’s order two servings of the Mt. Etna Flaming Lava Cake, “rich chocolate cake with a warm fudge center, topped with raspberry, chocolate drizzle and whipped cream”. Of course it’s indulgent. Come on, it’s New Year’s Eve, it’s time to indulge.

Afterwards, you are welcome to join us at one of our new favorite venues, The Des Plaines Theater, https://desplainestheatre.com/, where we have tickets to see The BoDeans live in concert. We really like this band. They have many hit songs, and have been featured on Saturday Night Live, Today, and recently on CMT. The show starts at 7:00pm, right after that fabulous dinner, and we will certainly enjoy listening to tunes such as “All the World”, “Stay”, and earlier chart-toppers like “Fadeaway” and “Dreams”.  The show will end well before midnight, and we’ll stay for a drink in the adjoining bar with you afterwards, but then we’re heading home to catch the Chicago fireworks and ball drop on Channel 7.  Drive very carefully, please? See you next year!

Do you believe it’s 2022 already? Yes, indeed, it’s Saturday, January 1st, New Year’s Day. Once again, my friends, readers, and fellow adventurers, we have explored and enjoyed our great city for a full year and emerged alive, well, and in good spirits. Hooray!

Take this weekend to relax, perhaps go through some of the souvenirs and photos you’ve collected this year, watch a bit more football, and heat up those left-overs for lunch and dinner. While you’re doing that think about what further adventures await us in 2022.  We’ll see you soon!