A Year in Chicago

Chicago has four distinct seasons, and an annual calendar of events to match them: winter (holidaying and hibernation), spring (heralded by dyeing the Chicago River green), summer (an all out party-hardy slate of festivals), and fall (generally good marathoning weather).

•January:Brrr! Pack your woolies and get used to hat head. The good news: there are lots of deals in the dead-of-winter offseason. And this in the month in which the city tourism officials put together themed visitor packages to entice out-of-towners to brave the cold. Check for seasonal specials at www.choosechicago.com and www.cityofchicago.org/tourism.

•February:Still cold, but louder, as Chinese New Year packs crowds in Chinatown for a parade of dragon dances to an ear-splitting soundtrack of firecrackers (free).

•March:Depending on your point of view, it's the wackiest or most eco-insensitive prank in city history. But St. Patrick's Day in Chicago calls for the dyeing of the Chicago River green by the plumber's union, followed by the St. Patrick's Day Parade through Grant Park. To keep all the local sots at their weekday desks, both events take place on the Saturday closest to the actual St. Patrick's Day (free).

•April:Welcome, the greening of Chicago. All is quiet, officially. Unofficially it's an outdoor celebration of garden-planting, lakefront bike rides and bird migrations north.

•May:The last weekend of the May kicks off summer festival season in the city as The Chicago Gospel Music Festival moves Millennium Park (free).


— Grant Park gets the blues, the big and raucous Chicago Blues Festival, the first weekend of June (free).

— For 10 days from late June through the July 4th holiday weekend, Taste of Chicago takes over Grant Park, clogging city arteries as well as those of fest-goers. The centerpiece of the festival is the dozens of food vendors represent restaurants around the city. In addition to nightly entertainment at the Petrillo Bandshell, Taste culminates with a Fourth of July concert featuring a marquee pop act (free admission).


— See Taste of Chicago listing above

—Tuesdays from mid-July through mid-August the Chicago Outdoor Film Festival screens classics and cult films in Grant Park's Butler Field (free).


—See Film Festival listing above

— The first weekend in August, Lollapalooza kicks it on three stages with over 100 concerts in three days of alt-acts that generally culminate with big names like Pearl Jam (far from free).

—If you see military jets buzzing the lakefront at low levels mid-month, don't panic. It's the annual Chicago Air & Water Show, which normally takes place the second weekend of the month. Practice days, usually the Thursday and Friday before the shows, are a great chance to see the fliers without the crowds (free).

Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival salsas into Grant Park the third or fourth weekend of August (free).

—The last weekend of summer just prior to Labor Day, the Chicago Jazz Festival tunes up in Grant Park (free).


— See Jazz Festival above

—When the kids go back to school, city events quiet down. But the fine Celtic Music Festival held mid-month extends the celebration with a jig-fest in Grant Park featuring acts from Ireland and the States (free).

•October:My favorite month in Chicago – sweater weather and blushing maples. This is the month of the Chicago Marathon, which in 2007 was raced – and ultimately called off — under unseasonably sweltering conditions (registration fee).

—The second weekend of the month the Chicago Country Music Festival ho-downs for two days at Soldier Field.

•November:Retailers light the way to holiday sales with The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving. There's a parade down Michigan Avenue, millions of holiday lights that flicker on the boulevard, day-long entertainment and fireworks over the Chicago River on that evening.

•December:Christkindlmarket sets up shop throughout December until just before Christmas, importing craft and food vendors primarily from Europe to simulate the continent's famed Christmas markets.

Elaine Glusac is the author of USA TODAY's Chicago City Guide