photo: courtesy of the Parcell family
The Parcell family's holiday display in Geneva is worth the trip.
Paris might be called the City of Lights, but Chicago (and its surrounding communities) makes a play for that title during the holiday season. We've located the area's best light displays, so all you have to do is get there. Some of our picks are conveniently located just off the L, but we've also found a few suburban spots that require wheels, or one trusty red-nosed reindeer.
You'll have to weave your way through herds of tourists at this outdoor show, but once in, you'll be rewarded with a display of 750,000 awe-inspiring lights. The bright exhibit is part of Navy Pier's Winter WonderFest, which also features plenty of holiday-themed activities for the whole family. And you don't have to pay a dime to marvel in the well-lit wonder (though fees apply to everything else here, so bring some cash just in case). The fest runs from December 4 through January 3.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo gets the royal holiday treatment with more than two million lights (presented by ComEd). The zoo's exhibits stay open late on select evenings, making for interesting seasonal photo-ops. Now you can send the folks a holiday card with your smiling face next to a clan of pygmy hippos. Little ones can also have their pictures taken with a classically clad Santa in the Kovler Lion House. Adults can enjoy warm cocktails, spiced wine and frosty beer while the kids revel at the zoo's numerous displays. The walk-through ZooLights festival is free and runs from November 27-29 and December 14-January 3 (closed December 24 and 25) from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Is the car heating up yet? You'll need it for the rest of our suburban spins. The unofficial holiday home light display in Edgebrook/Sauganash has been a big city tradition for years, appealing to residents throughout the entire Chicago area. The decorative houses, located just a few miles south of Lincolnwood, span about six square blocks, which might not sound like much, but you can easily spend an hour scoping out all the homes.
Sometimes all it takes is one family to bring joy to the world. And by the world we mean Chicago's western 'burbs. The Parcells started their dream display in 2002 and have accumulated nearly 50,000 lights since then. Nearly all of the lights are completely computerized and synchronized with festive tunes from a low-power FM transmitter. In an effort to save energy, the Parcells are now stringing LED lights; the current display uses 80 percent less electricity, thanks to the energy-saving bulbs. Not only do the Christmas-lovin' kin bring joy to their Geneva neighbors, but they also encourage visitors to do the same with their onsite Marine Corps Toys for Tots drop-off box. Additionally, the Parcells will pass out complimentary bells, in the spirit of "The Polar Express," to each visitor; last year, over 1,200 bells were distributed. Check out the website to find out when you can stop by.
This upscale Chicago suburb is luring locals and out-of-towners to its downtown shops with bright lights, holiday decor and a number of family-friendly festivities. The Hometown Holidays Kickoff Weekend (November 27-29) features an Electric Lights Parade and Grand Illumninations; from December 5-6, Naperville's bustling boutiques will participate in a Winter Window Walk, when the shops will boast holiday displays in their respective storefronts. A number of Naperville's northern neighborhoods are also notorious for jumping headfirst into the holiday spirit with their own personal light displays. Columbia Estates, for one, has wowed locals in past years with fun displays of Santa's workshop and a reindeer stable, while residents of the nearby Milton Drive and Wakefield Court have been known to get competitive with lights.