Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and Tree-Lighting Parade {2012}

Editor’s Note: This review is from 2012.  For the most up-to-date information, please visit The Magnificent  Mile online

© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

There’s something so magical about city streets strung with holiday lights.  Our family loves to walk the chilly downtown Chicago streets during the holidays with our cheeks aglow and our hearts full of “Fa La La.”  So last year, we decided to brave the crowds and venture out to The Magnificent Mile Tree-Lighting Parade in downtown Chicago.

The Tree-Lighting Parade is part of The BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival – a FREE full day celebration along Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  Along with its signature parade, there are family friendly activities, live performances, and fireworks, not to mention the ubiquitous shopping along the famed Magnificent Mile.

This popular annual event is Chicago tradition and always draws a large crowd. Generally, we like to avoid chaos, especially with two toddlers.  But we found by keeping things simple, and remembering the spirit of the season (i.e. don’t get crabby), we were able to create some great family memories.

If you love a parade, don’t mind a lot of walking, and have the urge to see the city sidewalks dressed in holiday style,  read on for my family’s tips for navigating the mayhem:

© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012
Ditch the Stroller

For some folks it’s essential; but personally, pushing a stroller through packed (and I mean PACKED) sidewalks feels like a nightmare to me.  Bringing a stroller also often means loading it up with lot of extra things we never use.  My then 1-year old was content to ride on Mama in a soft-structured baby carrier while my 3-year old enjoyed holding Daddy’s hand or riding on his shoulders.  We were especially grateful to not have to lift a heavy stroller up the steep stairs on Grand Avenue that connect to Michigan Avenue.   Not convinced? How often does your stroller serve as a coat cart rather than transporting kids who would rather walk? No stroller also curbs your temptation to fill it with shopping bags instead of children.

Travel Light
We are not the type to camp out early for the best spot with giant coolers and lawn chairs. That’s great if you do, but we need to keep on the move! Our kids are small enough and our backs are strong enough to hoist them on our shoulders during the parade, so finding a viewing spot really hasn’t been an issue. Also, having no stroller means you have to travel light. So I ditched the diaper bag and Daddy wore a backpack. If it didn’t fit in the backpack with room to spare it didn’t come with us. Remember to bring reusable water bottles and fill them up at water fountains as needed to save money and landfill-space.  Believe me you’ll need to save that money for parking. While the festival, parade, and other activities are free, city parking is not.  Plus traveling light means not burdening yourself with a full day’s load of food and drink.  This means you’ll be popping into Starbucks for hot chocolate or Garrett’s for some popcorn, but hey, it’s all part of the experience.

© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

Skip Lights Festival Lane
Lights Festival Lane, located at Pioneer Court on 401 Michigan Avenue, is the HQ for all-day family fun.  If you enjoy a lot of hustle and bustle, have a lot of patience, love freebies and can’t miss out on live entertainment, by all means give it a try! But for us it wasn’t worth it with little kids.  As the epicenter of free family friendly activities, giveaways, and fuzzy costumed characters all the booths and stations attract long lines.  While the freebies are generally really nice, toddlers don’t like to stand in queue in the cold.  For little suburban kids, the city during the holidays really provides a lot of distraction in and of itself.

Arrive Early
Really this goes without saying. The parade begins at 5:30 pm and if you think you can arrive at 5:00 you are wrong. So come around lunchtime to snag good (but expensive) parking and make a day of it.  If you are not retail-inclined, it’s not too hard to avoid going from store to store if the weather is right.  Our indoor pitstops included lunch at The Cheesecake Factory (no wait when you go early for lunch,) the Disney Store (because how can you not?) and seeing the holiday train display on the first floor of the John Hancock Center.

© L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

Chicago Toy & Game Fair
Ok so maybe adding another event isn’t “keeping it simple” but we didn’t want to spend the whole day on Michigan Avenue. So last year we walked to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair at Navy Pier.  It was a great way to pass some time while we waited for the parade to begin.  Read more about it from this post from last year.  If this doesn’t interest you, just make sure to have a backup plan to entertain the kids while you wait.  The area is full of options!

Editor’s Note: This review is from 2012.  For the most up-to-date information, please visit The Chicago Toy and Game Fair online. 

If this sounds like it’s worth the trip to you, arm yourself with plenty of holiday cheer and some good pre-planning. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

The BMO Harris Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Lights Festival Lane 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Pioneer Court, 401 N. Michigan Avenue
Interactive family activities, freebies, characters, food samples, picture with Santa, live musical performances
Editor’s Note: This review is from 2012.  The festival will take place on Saturday, November 22, 2014. For the most up-to-date information, please visit The Magnificent  Mile online

Tree Lighting Parade
North Michigan Avenue, from Oak Street to Wacker Drive
Parade begins at 5:30 pm at Oak Street traveling south towards Wacker Drive
Grand Marshalls Mickey and Minnie lead the parade, giant helium balloons, marching bands, floats, classic Disney characters, and live performances followed by a Fireworks Spectacular over the Chicago  River  at 6:55 pm
About Loralie 133 Articles
When Loralie isn’t out exploring with her two pint-sized adventurers you’ll often find her in front of her computer plotting to take over the world (or at least Lake County.) She appreciates good friends, good food, expensive shoes and parents who make two lanes in the drop-off/pick-up line at school. Her spirit animal is The Hobbit. She invites you to join her on her quest for unique distractions, diversions and deliciousness in this county we call home. She is the Features Editor and Marketing Director at Little Lake County.

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