2012 Holiday highlights in Chicago

12/19/2012 10:00 PM

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Meet the missus

This time of year, the man in the red suit gets all the attention, but isn’t it time for his better half to steal some spotlight? Head to Chicago Botanic Garden, where Mrs. Claus hosts kids for hot chocolate and cookies, then ushers them into a special viewing of the Wonderland Express holiday train. If you’re lucky, maybe she’ll even put in a good word with the big guy for that naughty-or-nice list. $20, $18 member; $17, $15 member in advance. 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Dec. 8. 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe. (847) 835-5440,

Firehouse fun

We don’t know any kid who isn’t at least fascinated by firefighters. So we’re loving KidVentures, where kids dress up as firefighters, slide down the pole, explore a fire truck and ambulance and, best of all, meet some real firefighters. On Dec. 12, they can listen to stories and munch on snacks, or on Dec. 22, meet Firefighting Santa (who knew he was a man of so many talents?). In either case, it sounds like a sure rescue from boredom! $9, $4 adult with beverages, free kids under 1. Noon-1:30 p.m. Dec. 12; 10-11:30 a.m. Dec. 22. The FireZone, 1100 National Parkway, Schaumburg. (877) 597-3473, firezonechicago.com.

Holiday showdown

When we hear “Dueling Nutcrackers,” we can’t help picturing two wooden soldiers engaged in a swordfight. But this is a different sort of battle, with two versions of Tchaikovsky’s music fighting for supremacy. Kids can chose their favorite between the classic original and Duke Ellington’s jazzy take, all while learning a little bit about music. Before the match begins, they can even try out some of the instruments taking part in the fight. $10 per family (up to six family members). 9 a.m. Dec. 8. Nichols Concert Hall, Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston. (847) 905-1500, musicinst.org.

Ringin’ it in

New Year’s Eve celebrations are often a little too grown up for the kids. That’s why we’re wild about Brookfield’s Zoo Year’s Eve, which features music, games, prizes and animals visits. The 8 p.m. countdown lets kids enjoy the tradition and still get to bed at a reasonable hour. And we promise not to judge if some worn-out moms and dads decide to do the same. Free with admission. 6-8 p.m. Dec. 31. 8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield. (708) 688-8400, brookfieldzoo.org.

Sweetness and light

In our corner of the world, the holidays are all about lights, presents and family togetherness. But each year, we get to have a special glimpse at how they do it 4,000 miles away in Deutschland thanks to the long-running Christkindlmarket. Families can take it one step further with the Lantern Parade, where kids illuminate Daley Plaza with brightly colored lanterns and then are led through the market singing traditional carols in English and German. Afterward, browse through some kid-friendly shops and stop by the Sweet Castle for some yummy German treats like Stollen. Lantern parade: $15, $12 members; $5 kids bringing their own lantern. Registration required. 4-6 p.m. Dec. 5. 50 W. Washington St., Chicago. (312) 494-2175, christkindlmarket.com.

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