This year, COVID has ruined enough of my fun plans! Not happening to Christmas! Luckily, there are plenty of socially distanced Christmas activities in Chicagoland. I’ve curated a few of my favorites and hope they’ll inspire you to attend, or find activities in your own hometown. All of these events or activities have special COVID policies in place, such as masks required, timed entry and so on. Yes, they’re all in the Chicago burbs, but with the city standing on the brink of another lockdown, I was hesitant to include anything downtown.
Santa’s Rock n Lights- Grayslake
Drive through Santa’s Rock n Lights at the Lake County Fairgrounds, where you’ll tune your radio to a station synchronized to the lights. The route will take about 25 minutes, through a 700 foot light tunnel, past a dinosaur world and more. The show runs Nov. 20-Jan 3. Advance reservations are required.
Let It Shine Lightshow- Northbrook
Closer to the city, you’ll find Northbrook’s brand new Let It Shine Lightshow, another drive through experience. Running Nov. 15- Jan 9, tickets are available online, and must be purchased in advance. They encourage you to arrive only at your designated time, to avoid congestion, since it’s setup at the Northbrook Court mall.
Luminary Hike- Lake Zurich
This 1/2 mile hike will feature over 2,000 luminaries! You’ll encounter shepherds, townsfolk, Roman centurions, wise men and more, before coming to a live nativity. Afterwards, grab a cup of hot chocolate in the warming station. The hike is hosted by Quentin Road Baptist Church, which usually produces a Broadway level Christmas pageant, but due to COVID has decided to offer this socially distanced event instead. Tickets are available on a limited time slot basis, over the weekends of Dec. 11-13 and Dec. 18-20. If it’s anything like the pageant, the tickets will disappear, so book early!
Ice Skating- Indoors or Out
Ice skating in Chicago’s Millennium Park is an iconic holiday tradition. However, there are lots of other less crowded options. Whether indoor or outdoor ice skating is your preference, there are plenty of both! Of course, the outdoor rinks are weather allowing, so be sure to check the sites for status updates before heading out.
Tilt Studio Rinkside, Gurnee- yes, it’s in the mall, but it’s a nice rink. To manage numbers, Tilt has online reservations for the open skate nights, keeping it to a minimum. Book up to 24 hours in advance. The day we went, there was no one else there!
Nelson Sports Complex Ice Arena, Rolling Meadows- this rink is operated by the Rolling Meadows Park District. Online booking is required here too, with public skates in the evening and even over lunch hours! Prices are very reasonable!
Lakewood Forest Preserve, Wauconda- this is a small, manmade rink. While small, it’s perfect because I’ve never seen anyone on it! The Forest Preserve floods it as soon as weather allows for a hard freeze. There are no rentals, so be sure to bring your own skates. While you’re there, explore Lakewood. If there’s snow, the sled hill is near the ice rink, and it’s a good one! They also have miles of trails, for hiking or cross country skiing.
Independence Grove, Libertyville- ice skating is actually on the lake itself, so it needs to freeze to 4.5 inches thick for skating. That might not happen in time for Christmas activities, but if not, save it for some post-holiday cheer!
You can check the status of both these Lake County Forest Preserve rinks here.
Deerfield Park District, Multiple Locations- the Deerfield Park District has four rinks! One is designated for hockey, while the other three are for public ice skating. They try to open them by mid-December, but will of course be weather dependent. As always, check the rinks status before heading over.
Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
The Morton Arboretum hosts Illumination every year, but in 2020, it will be a drive through. Honestly, I think I’d rather drive than walk anyway! The last time we went, it was bitterly cold! The drive will take 30-40 minutes and tickets are by the carload. Timed entry will also cut down on the lines. If you’ve never been to Illumination, it’s worth it! They deck the park in thousands, maybe millions, of lights. Some are synchronized to music, and in years past others were interactive. It will be interesting to see it from a drive through viewpoint.
Cut Your Own Christmas Tree
When I moved north from Florida, I was captivated by the idea of cutting my own Christmas tree! It isn’t a thing in Florida, unless your tree is a palm tree, and it sounded like something from a Hallmark movie. Over the years, I’ve dragged my boyfriend, now husband, to numerous tree farms. Funny enough, it’s always snowing the day we go! Here are a two awesome tree farms, both family owned. I’m go glad they’ll be open, because a number of u-cut farms are closed this season. If you’ve never cut your own tree, never fear! The farms will provide hand saws, and sometimes a sled to haul your tree back to the baling station.
Sullivan Family Tree Farm, Lake Villa– Yes, this farm is out in the country, but it’s picture perfect and fits my Hallmark movie image! You can’t miss the red barn from the road. They open Nov. 27, then every Saturday and Sunday until Christmas. Wagon rides to the trees are offered on a family by family basis to avoid close contact. In normal years, the historic barn hosts a snack and gift shop, but is closed this year. They’ll bale your tree outside, no worries. As an extra tip: Sullivan has the best prices on u-cut trees I’ve found anywhere in Chicagoland!
Richardson Farm, Spring Grove– Perhaps most famous for their fall farm and world’s largest corn maze, Richardson’s actually has a huge Christmas tree farm too. They will be open Nov. 27- Dec. 13, 7 days a week. After cutting your tree, head inside for a variety of goodies!
Geneva Christmas Walk
Geneva is one of those iconic Main Street suburbs I’ve come to love in Chicagoland. They host events throughout the year, including the Geneva Christmas Walk, Dec. 4-6, 12-13 and 19-20. Disregard Google which says it’s cancelled- it’s not! It will look a bit different this year, but it’s still on. Each weekend, Santa will make a grand arrival, carriage rides will be offered, and carolers will be about. Dec. 12-13 reserve a table in the Caroling Tent for some holiday music and treats, or Dec. 19-20 participate in the outdoors Cocoa Crawl between Geneva shops and restaurants. Check the daily schedule for weekend specific information.
Vintage Holidays- Long Grove
Long Grove is one of the most unique Chicagoan suburbs, and was actually Illinois’ first historic district. With cobble stoned streets, a historic covered bridge, and the oldest continuously operated tavern in the state, Long Grove rightly calls its Christmas celebration “Vintage Holidays“. Weekends Nov. 21- Dec. 20 carolers, Santa and Mrs. Clause and sleigh rides will take over the streets. If you’re feeling creative, the business association has a DIY Tradition Ornament Package. On Dec. 5, visit the Tree Lighting and add a decoration, your DIY ornament or anything else.
While in Long Grove, check out some of the boutique shops. There’s an Irish store, a Viking store, and a vintage/industrial design shop, to name a few. Plus, there’s a winery, brewery, and plenty of restaurants. This Christmas, more than ever, small businesses need our support.
Giving Back- Socially Distanced
Many in person charity events have been cancelled this holiday season, but the needs are still very real. Two charities have virtual gift boxes, letting you create a child’s Christmas present digitally! Grab your family and look at the options online together. Sure, it only takes a few minutes, and it’s not quite as rewarding to the giver as handing in a physical present, but it gets it done! Check out the Samaritan’s Purse or Toys for Tots, two I know are doing virtual gift box creation. There are tons of charities around Chicagoland, from animal rescues, to veterans assistance programs, to homeless shelters. I’m sure all of them would welcome a digital contribution of any kind.