Northwest Quiz: Windy City Holiday Traditions

Some holiday activities are so quintessentially Midwestern that we just have to take time and enjoy them this season. See how well you recognize these treasured traditions around northern Illinois.

1. Gazing at holiday window displays on State Street in Chicago’s Loop has been a happy tradition since the 1870s. But not until World War II did the windows start telling a themed story as you walked from one to the next. Which department store began this tradition?

2. On the seventh floor of the store mentioned in Question No. 1 is a very special room that became the first department store restaurant in the nation. It began after Mrs. Hering, a member of the store’s millinery department, started bringing homemade chicken pot pies for customers to eat when they got hungry while shopping. What’s the name of that still-famous room?

3. Many communities have beautiful holiday lights, but this city touts one of the best displays in Greater Chicago. Maybe that’s because its nickname has been “City of Lights” ever since it installed an electric street light system in 1881. What city is it?

4. Cold weather doesn’t scare us. The proof? Downtown Chicago’s wildly popular Christkindlmarket, which runs Nov. 17-Dec. 24 at Daley Plaza. For the 22nd year, vendors will sell unique items you won’t find on The Magnificent Mile, including tasty treats both savory and sweet. To what ethnic group and century do Christkindlmarkets trace their roots and what is a “Christkindl”?

5. If you’re not keen on frigid shopping conditions, you can head to the Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier Dec. 2 through Jan. 7. You’ll find oodles of holiday decor along with an indoor skating rink, Ferris wheel, mini-golf course, toboggan tunnel, winter tubing activity and a “living snow globe.” Navy Pier, which turned 100 last year, was inspired by architect Daniel Burnham, who believed commercial shipping and public lake access could peacefully coexist. How many visitors did Navy Pier welcome last year?
A. 3.3 million visitors
B. 6.3 million visitors
C. 9.3 million visitors

6. Many holiday concerts and plays happen each year in downtown Chicago. Can you name the venue where each of the following will soon be performed? “A Christmas Carol,” “The Messiah,” Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” “The Christmas Schooner.”

7. Gardens aren’t a summer-only attraction. For example, Rotary Gardens in Janesville, Wis., boasts one of the best holiday light displays in the state. There’s another notable garden that transforms into a winter paradise complete with The Wonderland Express, a model railroad made with natural materials and adorned by a million twinkling lights. What’s the name of that garden, and where’s it located?

8. You don’t have to spend big bucks to enjoy superb entertainment every Friday evening from Nov. 24 through Dec. 15 at Chicago’s Millennium Park, where outstanding local choral groups will perform and lead “Caroling at Cloud Gate.” So, what’s the nickname given to the Cloud Gate sculpture, who designed it and how much did it cost?

9. “Nobody does the holidays like …” Can you fill in the blank? Hint: More than 50 Christmas trees decorated to represent the world’s holiday traditions surround a four-story grand tree in this famous Chicago museum.

10. Zoolights opens Nov. 24 at Lincoln Park Zoo, featuring special treats like ice-sculpture carving, musical light shows, free crafts for children on Tuesday and Thursday nights, 3-D displays, Candy Cane Lane, a carousel, train, Ferris wheel, light maze, Undersea Adventure, Polar Journey experiences and more. Question: What is the zoo’s admission price?


1. Marshall Field & Co., founded in 1852 as a dry goods store, started both the holiday display window concept and its later storytelling version. In 2006 the store was acquired by Macy’s, which continues the tradition.

2. The Walnut Room is named for its rich walnut wood paneling culled from 200-year-old trees imported from Russia and is adorned with opulent Austrian crystal chandeliers. You can still purchase chicken pot pies, French onion soup and other house specialties there.

3. Aurora. The one-mile drive-through light show is set up in Phillips Park and is co-sponsored by the city and its local Rotary Club.

4. This tradition of German-speaking countries dates to the 1500s. The “Christkindl” (literally “Christ child”) is a blond, winged, sometimes crowned child/angel or female angel dressed in gold and white who places gifts under decorated trees on Dec. 24, much like Santa Claus. There’s also a large Christkindlmarket at Naper Settlement in Naperville, Nov. 24 to Dec. 24.

5. C. Navy Pier welcomed 9.3 million visitors during its 100th anniversary in 2016.

6. “A Christmas Carol” is at Goodman Theatre; Handel’s “The Messiah” is performed at both Harris Theater and Orchestra Hall; Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is at Auditorium Theatre; and “The Christmas Schooner” is at Mercury Theater Chicago.

7. Chicago Botanic Garden, in Glencoe, is home to the beloved Wonderland Express and many holiday special events.

8. Cloud Gate is nicknamed “The Bean” because of its shape and is the work of Sir Anish Kapoor, an Indian-born British artist. Unveiled in 2006, Cloud Gate cost $23 million; no public funds were used.

9. The Museum of Science and Industry takes great pride in its Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light displays that open in November.

10. Founded in 1868, Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days per year and charges no admission. Privately managed, it’s supported by donors and revenue from food service, retail shops, parking and fundraising activities. It also receives a fixed annual subsidy from the Chicago Park District.