Twinkle lights at the Brookfield Zoo, family time at the Art Institute, a Jens Jensen landscape show at the Morton Arboretum, the Harlem Globetrotters, “The Santaland Diaries” at Theater Wit, “The Mother****** with the Hat” at Steppenwolf and “Under the Streetlamp” at Paramount Theatre
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Dec. 23, 26-31: Your neighborhood may be aglow with lights adorning houses and trees, but there’s no way it comes close to the display at the Brookfield Zoo, which features an eye-popping array of more than a million twinkling bulbs. Beneath the canopy of illuminated color, you’ll find ice carving demos, holiday choirs, a special dolphin show and other animal exhibitions, including the zoo’s newest, the Great Bear Wilderness. Tickets: adults $15; children 3-11 and seniors $10.50. First Avenue between Ogden and 31st, Brookfield. Call (708) 688-8000 or visit Brookfieldzoo.org.
Holly Days at the Art Institute
Dec. 27-30: By Dec. 26 Santa will have come and gone. But the kids don’t go back to school for another week. What are parents to do? Exercise their young imaginations at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryan Education Center. After a visit to the “Picturing Poetry” show or a guided family tour through the museum, children can take a crack at illustrating a poem of their own and the tiniest visitors (ages 3 to 5) can create their own masterpieces in the Little Studio. Free with museum admission. Drop in between 10:30 a.m and 3 p.m. 159 E. Monroe. For information, call (312) 857-7161 or email Familyprograms@artic.edu.
‘Jens Jensen: Landscapes for People’
Through Dec. 28: Jens Jensen’s prairie-style approach to landscape design — in which native species and a seemingly natural arrangement of plants replaced formal gardens — is evident in cherished green spaces such as Humboldt, Douglas and Garfield parks. As this show at the Morton Arboretum reminds us, he was a champion of the environment, a crusader for people-friendly retreats that restore and refresh natural spaces, and a visionary whose work continues to impact our lives today. Free with Arboretum admission ($12 for adults, $11 for seniors, $9 for children). 4100 Lincoln, Lisle. Call (630) 968-0074 or visit Mortonarb.org.
Harlem Globetrotters at Allstate Arena
Dec. 28: The impressive and entertaining basketball team returns to its home court (the team originated on the South Side over 80 years ago and was based here until 1976), to strut their stuff and shoot some serious hoops at the Allstate Arena. Ant, Big Easy, Dizzy and the rest of the roster guarantees fans a good time as they go head to head against the New York Nationals. Games at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. Tickets start at $30. 6920 N. Manheim. Go to Ticketmaster.com or call (800) 745-3000.
‘The Santaland Diaries’
Through Dec. 30: David Sedaris’ naughty little essay was adapted for the stage in 1996, and for those with a taste for the irreverent and hilarious, it has become as much a holiday must-see as “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Mitchell Fain — who has won raves for past performances in the role — returns to Theater Wit to recreate the author’s unnerving experience of working as an elf at Macy’s during the holiday season. Tickets: $36. 1229 W. Belmont, (773) 975-8150, Theaterwit.org.
‘The Mother****** with the Hat’
Dec. 28-March 3: Expletive-laced and seriously funny, this Tony-nominated number by playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is steered by Steppenwolf’s Anna Shapiro, who helmed the show in its Broadway debut. Though this tale of an issues-afflicted couple living in single-room-occupancy housing depicts a world unknown to many theatergoers, the play’s exploration of their efforts to make meaningful lives is something we can all relate to. Jimmy Smits (“L.A. Law,” “The West Wing”) appears as an AA sponsor with boundary issues. Tickets: $52–$106. 1650 N. Halsted. Call (312) 335-1650 or visit Steppenwolf.org.
‘Under the Streetlamp’
Dec. 31: “Jersey Boys” may have taken it’s final bow, but show veterans Michael Cunio, Michael Ingersoll, Christopher Kale Jones and Shonn Wiley are living large as the crowd-pleasing vocal group Under the Streetlamp. With a nostalgia-tinged repertoire that ranges from The Drifters and the Beach Boys to The Beatles, this musically sharp foursome serves up the kind of energetic show that leaves audiences cheering for an encore. Tickets: $55-$65. Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena, Aurora. Call (630) 896-6666 or visit Paramountaurora.com.