Festivals & Holidays, Chicago
Saturday night July 29, 2006
The 49th annual VENETIAN NIGHT FESTIVITIES was held along Chicago's downtown waterfront with the theme "Rockin' all over the World", featuring a boat parade and spectacular fireworks display synchronized to music. Approximately 30 boats were decorated with lights and props as they sailed along beautiful Lake Michigan, between Shedd Aquarium at Roosevelt Road and the Chicago Yacht Club at Monroe Street. Thousands, and I mean thousands of people were in attendance to watch the festivities, even though it was a very hot and muggy night.
Just in front of The Daley Center (where the Picasso statue is located), there is always something going on at any time of year. At Christmas time, there is a beautiful display of lights where the fountains are located, and a huge Christmas tree in front of the Plaza. There is also a Christmas market made up of charming little wooden shops displaying things like crafty ornaments and seasonal treats. It's a nice place to look around!
Chicago has a substantial Irish population and in addition to the green beer added to bar menus throughout the city, Chicago celebrates by holding two major parades.
The official Chicago parade is held on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day and features floats, marching bands, politicians (what parade doesn't????) and is started off by the dyeing of the Chicago River green (kelly green that is, the river always looks green). Oddly, the dye put into the Chicago River is orange but when mixed with the River water it turns a lovely kelly green.
The South Side Irish Parade is held on the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day in Beverly, the most Irish neighborhood in Chicago. Estimates put the crowd at this parade as larger than the downtown parade. And likely more fun as well. The parade route is on Western Avenue between 103rd and 115th.
I've never made it to either parade but one year I did wander over to Michigan Avenue to seeing the river dyeing.
In 1977, the first Monday in March was designated a holiday in Chicago and Cook County to observe the birthday (March 4) of Casimir Pulaski, a Revolutionary War hero. Pulaski died during the War on October 11, 1779 in Savannah, Georgia.
There is also a Pulaski Road and a Pulaski Park in Chicago.
This should not greatly affect travelers to Chicago, only city and county offices/schools are closed for the holiday. Banks, museums and public transportation run on their normal schedule.
Chicago is a city of festivals. And many festivals feature a parade or two! Before visiting Chicago check out the indicated website which features a list of parades direct from the mayor's office of Chicago!
Contrary to popular belief, Chicagoans do not survive winter by hibernating until the chill is gone. I wouldn't go as far to recommend that someone choose to come to Chicago in the winter but if you find yourself here, there is lots you can do in the winter including some festivals set up to celebrate the cold and bring people out into the fresh air.
Snow Days is one of those festivals, 2011 is the 1st time I've gone to it, in prior years it was held in Millennium Park, this year it was at Navy Pier where we happened to be because my husband was manning a booth at Strictly Sail, an annual sailboat show also at Navy Pier.
I wouldn't suggest making a special trip downtown but if you are headed there anyways, it was interesting to see the teams working on their snow sculptures, some of the participants were students from local schools and some of the professional teams were from as far away as Russia. There was also a demonstration of dog sledding and while we missed it, there was also snowboarding.
My husband can't adequately explain to me why he wanted to do the Polar Bear Plunge, it's just one of those things that he felt like he needed to do. So after years of talking about it, he finally did one, the entire way down he kept saying "why am I doing this?" "it's really cold out there" and various other attempts to back out but I wasn't going to let him and have to endure another year of him talking about it.
The plunge is into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan and I was a little surprised when I arrived to find out the event preparations consisted of having you sign a waiver saying that if you suffer loss of consciousness, hypothermia, heart attack, paralysis or die that it was your own darn fault, a sign up tent where you forked over a charitable contribution and a handful of paramedics just in case. No warming tents, no place to change your clothes just a few hundred people, many of which seem to have prepared with a little liquid courage.
I'm standing there shivering while fully dressed while my husband stripped down to his bathing suit, they recommend bringing shoes you can get wet and a robe to cover up after coming out of the water. The plunge is a bit of a free for all, when you are ready, you go in, when your privates shrink to the point of non existence or you start turning a lovely shade of blue it's time to come out.
There are at least two of these in the Chicago area, there is one on New Year's Day sponsored by the Chicago Polar Bear Club at North Avenue Beach and this one which is sponsored by the Lakeview Polar Bear Club at Oak Street Beach, billed as a "Celebration of Shrinkage". It's grown quite a bit from the 3 people who did it in January 2002 to the 271 that did it in 2010 (and I suspect a few more that hadn't bothered to register). The proceeds of the registration go to help local families with medical needs.
This is apparently a big Memorial Day weekend event. Lakeshore Drive is closed to vehicular traffic for the Sunday morning before Memorial Day to allow bikers to have the route. Its a pretty interesting scene to watch thousands of bikers peddling down a main road, especially on a beautiful clear morning.
The Taste of Chicago is an annual tradition that is held typically the 10 day period before the 4th of July. Held at Grant Park it offers the cuisine of 100 local resturants, great entertainment that has included artisits like Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello and Erykah Badu. The Taste of Chicago draws millions of people every year.
Must haves at the Taste of Chicago are the various famous Chicago deep dish pizzas and Eli's cheesecake...yummy!!!
Hours are from 11am to 9pm
The Fourth of July (Independence Day) is a festive time in Chicago. During the evening of July 3rd downtown Chicago, in and near Grant Park as well as the lakefront, millions of people gather to watch fireworks and enjoy the Taste of Chicago food festival. There is also live orchestral music in Grant Park. To enjoy the show and the fireworks, some people arrive early in the day to find a good spot and camp out. Michigan Ave is closed to traffic during that evening. Parking is a huge problem during this time, as all parking lots fill to capacity. Don't expect to find cheap parking. Leaving after the fireworks is chaotic, as millions of people try to leave all at once. Even getting out of the parking lot/garage can take more than an hour. The best way is to use public transportation (CTA, Metra, South Shore Line) which offer extra service that night.
The lions at the Art Institute always sport large red bows during the winter holiday season.
From the Art Institute website:
The two bronze lions that flank the Michigan Avenue entrance were made for the Art Institute's opening at its current location in 1893. They were a gift from Mrs. Henry Field. They have unofficial "names," which were given by their sculptor Edward Kemeys that are more like designations. You'll notice that the lions are not identical, and thus are named for their poses: The south lion "stands in an attitude of defiance," while the north lion is "on the prowl."
Since 2003, the Turkish festival is held each year. In 2007 it was from the 30th of May until the 2nd of June. Event takes place at the Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington Str.
Once there, you can buy some coconut juice ($3), kebabs (lamb, chicken), jewelry (Turkish eye), carpets; watch lovely dancers perform, look at fashion show (two girls presenting traditional Turkish costumes), witness Dervishes religious dancing (do not applaude after they are done), hear some flute and drums (also watch how drummer spins his drums with his teeth - look at my pic #2).
I had a lovely time there, although the sun was burning. Wish I took a hat or something.
It is free of charge, opened from 10 AM to 6 PM CST. Free live performances take place between noon and 2 PM.
To Get There: Take blue line to downtown, get off at Washington metro station.
ADVICE: Bargain when buying jewelry! When I was buying a braslet, the guy told me it was five bucks. After I said I`ll buy it for 'four' he agreed so fast, I wish I said 'three'. :-)
Keep in mind that there will be loads of people downtown, but you can still manage to get a view of the river if you want to. Then the crowd moves to view the parade. Not hugely exciting but excellent to take a few pics and send them to your friends so that they will know that Chicago takes their St. Patrick's Day seriously. Then head to the bar and get started on other endeavors.
Interesting side note--the tradition was started and is maintained by the plumbers union--something about using dye to detect illegal pipes draining into the river and then they got the idea to dye the river for St. Patrick's Day.
Christkindlmarket is a German Christmas market at Daley Plaza that runs from around Thanksgiving to Christmas each year. If you are in Chicago around this time, be sure to stop by. Sample a variety of food and drink from Germany, including bratwurst, schnitzel, leberkaese, potato pancake, stollen, and gluehwein. There are also a variety of vendors selling Christmas gifts and ornaments. The weather in Chicago during this time is usually pretty cold (and perhaps snowy), so be sure to dress extra warm since this is held outside. But the atmosphere at this market certainly feels warm and festive. Admission is free, and it can get pretty crowded on certain days.
Daley Plaza [in front of City Hall] -- the famous Picasso is surrounded by Christmas Market booths -- you can see the big tree too!