Street Smart Chicago

Presents: A Most Peculiar Holiday Guide and Gift Rap

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Bailey Building & Loan. Matuschek and Company. The Pine Tree Ski Lodge. Macy’s, when there was just one, owned by Mr. R.H. Macy. Holiday Inn, the one in the movie that the chain was later named after. Heck, even Scrooge & Marley when you get right down to it.

It’d be kind of hard to play a Christmas movie in your heart without a business owned by a real person, not a faceless corporation. The holiday, at least in its contemporary secular sense, is hard-wired to the moms and pops of the world, usually for better, sometimes for worse (Ebenezer, Mr. Potter).  Read the rest of this entry »

Home for the Holiday: A Jew’s First Christmas

Essays & Commentary, Holidays No Comments »

By Rachel Helene Swift

“[Christmas is] the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” —Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

Jeremy was twelve years old when his father left. There was another woman—a family friend—and an ultimatum, and finally a bitter divorce. The wounds remained raw, and the kids didn’t talk to their father much. But every year, on the evening of December 24, he arrived on Jeremy’s mother’s doorstep in time for Christmas dinner.

“You’ll like him,” Jeremy assured me as his beat-up Corolla rumbled incongruously along the tree-lined streets of Stamford, Connecticut. “He’s very charming. He’s even more charming when he’s drunk.”

I was twenty years old, and this was the eve of my very first Christmas. My parents, practicing Jews, took us kids into the city to see the lights every year, but that was the extent of my yuletide experience. I felt curious, like an anthropologist entering a strange country; nervous, like I feared that the natives would see me as a fraud.

Outside the window, colored lights wound between the bare branches of evenly spaced maple trees, and baubled evergreens winked through the windows of sprawling, well-maintained houses. On the sidewalk, a woman slouched into her heavy coat, clutching a plastic bag as her small dog squatted. Tiny flecks of snow drifted in the air, melting to nothing as they touched the ground. Read the rest of this entry »

Shopping List: Love Thy Neighbor and Shop Local

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Newcity’s “Chicago Looks” photographer-columnist Isa Giallorenzo went shopping for a wide range of possible gift recipients, and did so by sticking to a local focus.

Gifts for brainiacs and cool people in general

MCA Store (
Wanna show how smart you are? Bring something from this creative shop. Handmade accessories—from here and beyond—will surely please any design freak. Great place to find cool non-vintage T-shirts (they exist). 220 East Chicago.

Gifts for the annoying 1%
Vosges Haut-Chocolat (
You gotta respect a chocolate with this name. Just like your boss, who’s your Secret Santa this year (yay!). Also they do offer options for the rest of humanity, like the $4 Gnome Chocolate Pops.


Luisa Casati Truffle Collection: Ask for a raise right after you gift these.


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All That Glitters: My Father’s Obsession with Designer Christmas Ornaments

Essays & Commentary, Holidays No Comments »

About the time I entered high school in my home city of Minneapolis, my father began a new Christmas ritual that actualized his love for over-the-top decorating, for things that sparkle and glow when he began collecting glass-blown, hand-decorated, designer Christmas ornaments. What seemed like an innocent holiday hobby quickly spiraled into a year-round obsession and a compendium of nearly 750 ornaments.

I don’t think I’ll ever want to know how much money went into those things. It wasn’t just the ornaments. In warmer months he traveled to Portland, Racine and Chicago for exclusive purchasing events with other collectors (mostly rich housewives or, like my father, gay men, and some het couples). I’d come home from soccer and find taped-up cardboard packages on our back steps. Over the following week, several glitter-coated Santas would sit indulgently splayed over a cloth placemat on the dining room table as my father meditated on which to keep and which to return. More and more, the A-frame walls of the attic were lined with stacks of long, airtight Tupperware bins keeping my father’s treasures safe until November. Read the rest of this entry »

Give It Good: Twelve Ways to Shop Local (For the Twelve Days of Christmas)

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By Alexandra Delaney

Sugar plum fairies aren’t the only things that will be dancing in your head this holiday season. Whether your preference is sweet, sour, gummy or chocolate, this retro-inspired candy store has something that will make your taste buds dance with delight. Choose from twenty-one colors of M&Ms or pick chewy candy from Chicago’s first licorice bar. For holiday hostess gifts, pick up a tray of gourmet truffles and fudge. Add a twist to your favorite Bears fan’s stocking with blue-and-orange Bear Down Gummi Bears or surprise a friend with giant pecan turtles. 520 North Michigan, (312)527-1010; 3425 North Southport, (773)472-7800; 835 North Michigan, (312)867-5500.

BeMo Hats
Handmade hats are a personalized way to fight off the winter chill this season. The hand-crafted hats can be customized; adding a favorite animal, color or flower to the hat is a fun gift idea. Materials span from recycled leather to feathers and vintage pins to bows and felt flowers. The hats are sold at various Chicago locations and can be customized (and shipped in time for the holiday season) online. Read the rest of this entry »

Oy to the World: You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Enjoy a Secular Christmas

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By John Greenfield

Christmas is a great time to be in Chicago, even if you’re not a Christian. As a largely nonobservant Jewish person, I make a point of staying in town during the holiday because I always have a blast. It’s the best of both worlds: I get to enjoy the spirit of brotherhood and good cheer that prevails, as well as taking the day off of work, but there’s no pressure to gather with relatives or exchange gifts. For me, Christmas is a chance to spend quality time with members of my family of choice—my longtime Chicago friends. Read the rest of this entry »

Presents: A Most Peculiar Holiday Guide (and Gift Rap)

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Illustration: Lucy Knisley

We suspect that much of the joy seeped out of the season right about the time that Christmas shopping became about crack-of-dawn post-Thanksgiving treks to the mall to act like Stepford Wives following a script beamed into our brains by a television media that, coincidentally, was funded by big national retailers. And Cyber Monday? You’ve got to be kidding. It’s not only easy to shop local, it’s fun. And it keeps mom-and-pops alive and money in the local economy. So this year, think before you shop. (Brian Hieggelke) Read the rest of this entry »

Presents: Where to Shop Local

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By Sarah Louise Klose

Gayety’s Chocolate and Ice Cream Company

Dashing through the snow, to Chicago’s Soldier Field, over Lake Shore Drive we go, with a football that looks real! But don’t throw a pass with this delectable delight—it’s molded from pure chocolate melted in cast iron kettles. Toffee, almond clusters and pecan caramel candy fill the hollow football right up to the laces. The Chicago Bears and Northwestern Wildcats have been known to stock their box seats with this chocolate “Pro Football.” Read the rest of this entry »

Valley of the Dolls: Fading to Black at American Girl Place

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Kit Kittredge

Here is my holiday advice for the Occupy Chicago protesters. On Black Friday, hike up Michigan Avenue and block the entrance to American Girl Place at Water Tower. Such a bold move would really get the media’s attention. And more importantly, you’d be doing me a personal favor.

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my two daughters and I wander into the store. “It’s a wonderland,” says the seven-year-old. She clutches the Kit Kittredge doll Santa brought her last year. My thirteen-year-old shoots her the stink eye. The store is crowded with excited girls of all ages, many smartly dressed in stockings and bows. Most are accompanied by mothers who share a look a friend calls “North Shore constipated.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Candy Canes of Christmas

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Candy Cane Truffles from

Despite my significant domestic shortcomings, I like to give homemade Christmas gifts. Something about avoiding the mall prompts me to abandon my usual refusal to do anything creative and try, for example, to make snowmen out of marshmallows—one year’s disaster. Though the results have been uneven, I press on.

That year, I steadily crunched candy canes with the back of a knife onto a plastic cutting board in preparation for candy cane truffles that the “Edible Gifts Cookbook” assured me would be both festive and tasty. I was elbow deep in candy cane dust, knife in hand, when I heard the regular sounds of my husband returning from work: garage door opening, car door shutting, back door opening… Read the rest of this entry »