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The International Writers Magazine: Travels with Fred

Christmas in Chicago
• Fred C. Wilson III

Christmas in Chicago can be a wonderful experience if you know where to go. You’re doubly blessed if you have an ample supply of dollars. Having a few local contacts enhances your enjoy ability factor considerably. The Museum of Science and Industry is a great place to start your holiday experience.

Photo: Christkindlmarket 2015

christkindl market

A long standing Chicago tradition now in its 74th year is ‘Christmas around the World-Holiday of Light Festival.’ This magnificent extravaganza kicked off in 1942 the darkest year of World War II when Axis nations were inches away from world domination. The festival started when a lone tree was lit to salute the solidarity of allied nations. This was the time when the war’s outcome looked its bleakest. Since then the Museum’s Yuletide experience has blossomed into the much visited spectacular of holiday decorations, fine dining, colorful festive theatricals and international Christmas tree displays it is today.

When I lived on the city’s Southside growing up in the bad old days of the 1950’s and early 1960’s I made it part of my to-do list to attend some of the many holiday events at the Science museum. In those days all city museums were free. One of the reasons for high admissions fees was to deter gangbangers from using city museums as hang outs to rob unsuspecting visitors. Their intimidating presences took all the fun out of museum going. High museum admission fees all but eliminated criminal elements. The colorful folk dances, the many Christmas trees representing the colorful cultures that celebrate the holy holiday are on display. For me and my mom it was a welcome respite from the drudgery of daily existence. Christmas was that most beautiful time of our year.

This year’s celebration is further enhanced by the museum’s ‘Robot Revolution.’ I’ve written extensively about the possibility of building androids and other forms of artificial intelligence units possibly the next step in the evolutionary process; this exhibit is of high interest to me. I found the recent UK based AMC TV series ‘Humans’ informative and highly enjoyable; dirty old man that I am, I especially enjoyed the scene when pretty ‘synth’ Anita played by Gemma Chan hooked-up with her human ‘handler’ Tom played by Joe Hawkins.

The ‘Christmas around the World’ experience and ‘Robot Revolution’ run concurrently through January 3, 2016. ‘Christmas around…’ is included in the museum’s admissions fee; ‘Robot’ requires an additional ticket. Don’t forget to stroll through the festive forest, photograph the 45 foot Grand Tree along with other exhibits during your visit. Nobody can see all there is to see in a day; plan your tour time wisely. It takes about a week to see most of what’s on display.

I’m a student of the Edwardian Era though for racial, religious and medical reasons I’m glad I wasn’t alive during the early 1900’s. During a very vivid dream a few years ago I dreamt I was a 13 year old boy. I was dressed in period clothes. I was attending a baseball game at the then newly built (1910) Comiskey Park. I sat along the third base line watching the White Sox take on Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers. In my dream experience old Ty was as fast and deadly as history purports him to have been; could that man run! That old ball yard is long gone. In its’ place is the brand new US Cellular Field. ‘Yesterday’s Main Street’ is a long running exhibit that transports visitors back to 1910. This block long interactive period experience is replete with a functional Nickelodeon, a seasonal ice cream parlor, period stores, vintage automobiles, gas lights and cobblestone streets. For information on this and other area museums go to: Chicago and Museum of Science and Industry. Bring along a good pair of walking shoes.

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is beautiful year round. During the Holiday Season classy retailers spare no expense to lure high end clientele to their stores; serious shoppers should be prepared to lay down some tall green. That part of our fair city is a haven for stores that sell uber luxury items sans price tags.

magnificent  mile I surmise shop keepers figure if you wanted to know prices of high end items you are too poor to pay. As I type this article my wife’s out shopping at Nordstrom’s, a high end store I never set foot in. After an impoverished boyhood my buying items I could get cheap at a discount store is wasteful. For more information on that part of the city where area residents a wealthy blend of old money, new money and no money log in to:

‘Lincoln Park Zoo Lights’ is another Chicago tradition. As an incentive to tourists/locals the municipal zoo offers special glasses to the first 1,000 visitors each night to view the pretty lights. There are nightly ice carving demonstrations, hot beverages served and ice skating at the free zoo’s ice rink if you’re interested. I’ve driven pass that exhibit many times en route to some place else. I went to that event only once out of curiosity. It’s just too damn cold for me to mill around outdoors with large numbers of people freezing my ass off watching ice sculpting. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Chicago winters but from the comfort of my warm room which offers me a panoramic view of the changing seasons.

Our apartment overlooks a section of the city where the Chicago Marathon runs. The scenic cityscape from our windows lends itself nicely to my drawings. Somehow me walking around in the freezing cold for any appreciably length of time is totally asinine; if you’re the Arctic type go for it. Whatever floats ‘yer boat. I make it a point of visit Lincoln Park’s Zoo at least twice yearly to do some sketching during warm months. The icy exhibit runs from November 27th through January 3rd of next year. For additional information log in to:; have fun!

Yesterday at the time of this writing my wife and I had lunch at the Christkindlemarket in Daley Center. This holiday market features all things German; nutcrackers, beer steins, wooden handicrafts, Bavarian music, glass blown items, and lots of food! Sausages, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, marzipan cookies, waffles, beer and Gluhwein hot spiced wine and authentic German candies some of which my beloved and I sampled. I have the lovely blue souvenir mug my wife bought me at last year’s Christkindlmarket. I keep it in my room on a special shelf where I display precious mementos we’ve collected throughout our 25 year marriage. ‘Christkindlmarket’ is a favorite Yule destination for locals/tourists. This market was founded in Nuremberg, Germany in 1545 when the Reformation was in full swing; the Chicago version 1996. Information could be had at: As with all tourist attractions Christkindlmarket is pricy; food wise you could do better if you buy the ingredients and do your own cooking at home or dine in a German restaurant; what you’re paying for is sharing in a unique tradition that goes back nearly 500 years.

‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens is a must do experience for locals and visitors alike. I went last year. Established in 1925 the Goodman is one of the mid-west’s premier playhouses. ‘Christmas Carol’ is playing at the Goodman Theatre. I’ve always loved good literature ever since I had my first short story publicly castigated in high school in 1962 for obscenity by my then English Literature teacher Fr. Robert Thomas O.F.M. (not his real name obviously). My former instructor later became an accomplished playwright and a university president; however he wasn’t a fan. If you enjoy fine storytelling and a stunning visual experience log in to: ‘The Goodman Theater’ and search ‘A Christmas Carol.’

Holidays in Chicago are not all holly, artificial snowflakes, candy canes, mistletoe, local beers/ales and jolly ole St. Nick. Chi-Raq the upcoming film directed by New York’s Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott is set in Chicago. The gang violence satire is based on Aristophane’s Greek comedy ‘Lysistrata’ where Greek and Spartan women stage a sex strike to protest the Athenian–Spartan War. Chi-Raq opens on December 6th. Set in Englewood my childhood neighborhood on the city’s south side the title is a combination of Chicago and Iraq hence Chi-Raq. The movie title has the distinction of having pissed off Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and a host of City Council members. Will I see the film; probably not; too many bad memories set in music. I’ll opt for ‘The Martian.’

Celebrate Chicago’s New Year at Navy Pier with fireworks, booze and good food. Every year’s end the city hosts a Midnight fireworks show. If you can stand the long cold wait you might want to catch this annual event in person. Some of the best parties found anywhere take place on New Year’s Eve. Whether dancing, dining and drinking the old year out at the Grand Ballroom, Crystal Gardens, sharing a Lake Michigan champagne dinner and dancing cruise there’s always something to pick your fancy. Most New Year’s Eve’s my wife and I usually attend the building’s party. It’s not an elaborate affair like some of the places I’ve mentioned but its nice knowing that if I get bombed I can always take the elevator, return to our apartment and sleep it off. My spouse’s a non-drinker.

Despite U.S. secularist’s war on Christmas I’m in the habit of wishing people ‘Merry Christmas’ in salute of the Reason for the Season the birth of Jesus Christ. Was Jesus born on December 25th? No; many if not most biblical scholars/historians think that Christ was born either in the late spring or early summer months close to our Easter dates. Nobody knows for certain though its a barely disputed fact that Jesus was an historical figure so why December 25th?

During antiquity the last week of December was held in honor of the Roman god Saturn hence the name Saturnalia, a festive season that’s recently came back into its own. Saturnalia was a time for binge drinking, sex parties, community pig-outs outs, lewd dancing and risqué theatricals. These bacchanals would go on for weeks on end. When Christianity came into its own after Emperor Constantine mandated it the official religion of the Roman Empire things changed. December 25th became Christmas Day; Saturn was sacked. Like Easter Sunday, Christmas church services of all denominations are filled to overflowing though Sundays and holy days throughout the rest of the year attendance drops dramatically. If you’re planning a visit to our city most hotels/motels list times and address of local churches where you can celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ away from home.

With extra terror national security alerts coupling with knowledge that Chicago is America’s murder capital I urge all tourists to be extra careful when visiting. Chances are you have nothing to fear if you observe simple common sense rules. Visiting Chicago and other unfamiliar places can be dangerous. Before visiting read the U.S. State Department’s holiday travel advisory and take things from there. One more thing so-called ‘good’ neighborhoods can be more dangerous than ‘bad’ areas since crooks/terrorists target high end areas since that’s where the money is. My wife and I live on the city’s ‘Gold Coast’ (See; ‘Mag Mile.’). There are more strong-arm robberies in this area than in so-called ‘ghetto/barrio’ areas; you’ve been warned

Speaking about high crime on the Gold Coast; in response to the senseless police shooting of Chicago African-American teenager Laquan McDonald protesters shut down a large number of retailers along the Mile and sections of Downtown the city’s central business district preventing holiday shoppers from taking advantage of Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) discounts. The taxicab my wife was riding in was forced to turn return home by protesters! Like I said you have been warned. Sporadic anti-police brutality demonstrations are still being staged throughout Downtown. Christmas Tree ship

Sketch: The "Christmas Tree Ship" image features the famous Captain Herman Schuenemann and his schooner 'Rouse Simmons' brought Christmas trees to the City of Chicago at a dock near the Clark Street bridge.

There is a double danger advisory for Chicago. This great city may be on Daesh’s and other Islamic/local terror faction’s hit list. Chicago has always been a haven for criminality; aforementioned the long time murder capitol of the United States. From Day One Chicago has always had a bad rep. During the War of 1812 Native Americans allied to Great Britain destroyed the city, Fort Dearborn in those days. Every man, woman and child were wantonly murdered. The local band played a funeral march as soldiers and settlers were evacuating the fort that would soon be known as Chicago. They knew death was imminent. Even before its incorporation in 1837 the land of the dollar bill has always been exciting; a haven for pleasure and money making. Our city welcomes all visitors throughout the year; again be careful and bring money. We do pretty much everything here on cash and carry basis; you no have cash you no carry. Like to old tune goes ‘they’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.’

Coming to Chicago is easy. There are plane flights, Greyhound buses, trains arriving/leaving Chicago 24/7. Select your mode of transportation then make appropriate arrangements. To make planning easier log in to:

God bless, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year; enjoy our city but be very careful.

© Fred C Wilson 111 December 2015

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