Chicago goes through a sort of metamorphosis as winter takes a firm grip over the city, bringing cold weather and incredibly short days. But don’t feel bad making runs to the local convenience store in sweatpants and slippers — during the coldest winter days, it takes a lot of motivation and sheer willpower just to leave the house. When not hibernating, Chicago residents can be seen digging their vehicles out from snow drifts and ice, meeting up at corner bars, or even jumping into a frozen Lake Michigan.
With winter officially here, we thought it was only fitting to highlight a few noteworthy Chicago traditions that mark the season. Keep reading and let us know your favorite winter traditions in the comments.
Try to picture hundreds of people clad only in bathing suits running and fully submerging themselves into a frigid Lake Michigan during the coldest period in Chicago. Sound like fun? That’s basically what the Polar Plunge is. Each year towards the end of winter, the event takes place to great fanfare — even sometimes featuring surprise celebrity guests (think Jimmy Fallon and Lady Gaga). And it’s all for a good cause, as proceeds from participant entry dues and their funds raised go to support Special Olympics Chicago.
There’s no local tradition more polarizing than parking dibs. For the uninitiated, the idea is simple: residents claim, or call “dibs” on a street parking space for a few days to upwards of a week (or sometimes longer) after clearing that spot out after a heavy snowfall. When not parked in that space, the dibs participant will place a chair, a traffic cone, or some other item in the spot to signal to others that it has been claimed. Let’s just say some people get particularly creative with the items they use to claim their territory.
One of the greatest things about the holiday season is the wonderment of lighting displays throughout the city’s neighborhoods and cultural attractions. In particular, the ZooLights installation at the Lincoln Park Zoo is a dazzling experience that excites the senses for people of all ages. For over 25 years, the recurring event has been free to the public, showcasing 2.5 million lights throughout the zoo.
Getting into a neighborly spirit
While the jury may be perpetually out on parking dibs, one theme that can be identified as a positive force is that of neighborly camaraderie and unity during cold snaps. We look out for each other during storms and dreaded polar vortex periods. Checking in on neighbors, helping shovel neighbor’s sidewalks, and generally being affable and available towards friends and neighbors is something Chicagoans do. It’s not only a point of pride, but one more reason why Chicago is a great place to call home.
Alright, so you’ve picked up the frozen turkey and the usual staples — stuffing, pickled beets, and the like — but what’s for dessert? The relatives are arriving in just a few days but you’re still wrapping up projects at work, preparing the house, and there’s simply no time to add another item to the laundry list of things to cook for the big holiday feast.
Fortunately, Chicago boasts a reputable lineup of highly rated and beloved pie shops. From classic to eclectic, these sweet purveyors of delectable desserts will not only save you precious time during the Thanksgiving crunch, but may even save the day.
Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits
For the boutique take on homemade classics, look no further than Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits. With locations in Logan Square and Ravenswood, North Siders have options for a pre-Thanksgiving pickup. To keep things simple for Thanksgiving, Bang Bang is only offering five pie varieties: apple, pumpkin, chocolate pecan, key lime, and chocolate caramel. Hurry and place your orders though, as Bang Bang is already gearing up for the holiday rush.
Hoosier Mama Pie Company
With locations in Chicago’s West Town community and Evanston, Hoosier Mama specializes in seasonal pie selections made from scratch. Making fresh pastries and desserts daily, Hoosier Mama offers 10 varieties of sweet pies every single day. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving orders for the Evanston location are closed, so you might be better off arriving first thing in the morning to grab what is readily available.
Bittersweet Pastry Shop
If you’re really looking to impress your guests, consider grabbing a picture-perfect pie from this Lakeview bakery. Seriously though, take a look yourself — Bittersweet’s pies truly are magazine-quality pieces of confection-perfection. Thankfully, there is a spread of different pie, cake, and cookie options available for Thanksgiving orders. For those who want to go all out, consider the equally impressive and adorable Thanksgiving gingerbread house.
Jimmy Jamm Sweet Potato Pies
Nothing says Thanksgiving like turkey and sweet potato pie. If you’re located in or around Beverly, you’re in luck as this beloved staple offers a plethora of pie options — so long as sweet potato is the main ingredient. An old school spot, it doesn’t have an online order form or directions for calling orders in. Instead, you might want to just swing by the store as soon as you can and see if there’s any unclaimed pies waiting for you.
Justice of the Pies
When you order your Thanksgiving dessert from Justice of the Pies, you can not only feel good knowing that you’ve got a delicious baked dish coming your way, but also know that you’re doing good by supporting a mission-based business. All of the bases are covered when it comes to classic varieties: orders are open and available for pumpkin, sweet potato, key lime, and several others. And in the meanwhile, you can drool over the pie pictures posted to their Instagram.
Sweet Mandy B’s
The old fashioned pies and desserts from Lincoln Park’s Sweet Mandy B’s are sure to delight holiday guests. After feasting on turkey and stuffing, try snacking on a sweet apple-cherry streusel, banana cream pie, or pumpkin cheesecake. Or maybe cap off dessert with one of Sweet Mandy B’s classic cupcakes.
As the holidays approach, giving back is a great way to kick off the season. Whether you’re looking to give back in the form of time or monetary donations, there are many organizations across the Chicagoland area that could benefit from extra support. Read on to learn the ways you can start a new tradition, while lending support to those in need.
Blessings in a Backpack
This organization provides food on the weekends to elementary school children across America who might otherwise go hungry. While these children are fed during the school week, Blessings in a Backpack is dedicated to ensuring they receive nutritional meals over the weekend, too.
How to give:
- Through a one-time gift ($130 will feed one child on the weekends for one 38-week school year).
- Make a donation to a specific school.
- Make a monthly donation.
- Donate new backpacks or drawstring bags.
Cradles to Crayons Chicago
Cradles to Crayons provides homeless or low-income children, from birth through age 12, with the essential items they need to thrive – at home, at school and at play.
How to give:
- Make a monetary donation ($33 helps provide a child with the everyday essentials they need).
- Donate high-quality and like-new items, such as coats, clothing, diapers, baby gear, toys, bedding, etc.
- Create a KidPack (make a monetary donation or purchase items off an Amazon Wish List).
- Host a drive in your community.
One Warm Coat
This organization provides a free, warm coat to anyone in need. One Warm Coat also provides individuals and groups with the resources to hold a successful coat drive. The coats are then distributed in the communities where they were collected.
How to give:
- Donate a coat at a participating location.
- Make a monetary donation (every dollar donated warms one person).
- Host your own coat drive.
The Honeycomb Project
With a focus on family volunteering, the Honeycomb Project’s mission is to engage and inspire kids and their families to strengthen Chicago’s communities. Volunteering opportunities are centered around creating meaningful experiences and include events such as helping with conservation efforts in a forest preserve, working at a food pantry, sewing quilts for pediatric patients at hospitals and much more.
How to give:
- Register to volunteer for a project (registration opens the 15th of the month prior to the event).
- Donate your professional skills (in the areas of fundraising, events, photography, research or marketing).
Cara is a workplace re-entry program that helps people affected by poverty obtain and keep quality jobs. Most importantly, it helps these individuals rebuild hope, self-esteem and opportunity.
How to give:
- Donate professional attire for men and women.
- Make a monetary donation.
Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly
This non-profit is dedicated to relieving isolation and loneliness among those faced with aging alone. The organization provides friendship, conversation and connection to thousands of elders who no longer have relatives or friends to rely on.
How to donate:
- Visit an elder you’re matched with based on shared hobbies and interests by spending an extra hour a few times a month.
- Provide holiday help for the organization’s three big celebrations across the city on Thanksgiving, Christmas and in the spring. You can volunteer as a holiday driver, or for pre-holiday prep, event set-up, hospitality or cooking.
Ronald McDonald House Charities
Since 1977, Ronald McDonald House Charities has kept families together with their hospitalized children across Chicagoland. Every night, the organization keeps families close to the care and resources they need at five area Ronald McDonald Houses and three Ronald McDonald Family Rooms. Helping families stay close to their hospitalized child supports the child’s health and well-being, while saving families more than $10 million in annual hotel and food costs.
How to donate:
- Volunteer your time in the form of cooking, cleaning or comforting.
- Cook a home-cooked meal for those at the Houses and Family Rooms, through Meals from the Heart, which saves them from the stress of cooking and expense of dining out.
- Bake cookies through Cookies from the Heart, which provides homemade treats to help them feel comforted and at home.
- Purchase new, unused items from the wish list, such as unwrapped snacks, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, gift cards, postage stamps and more. Supplies can also be ordered through Amazon Smile.