While typically a time of year associated with relaxation and any number of festive activities, the holiday season in Chicago will look different this year due to COVID-19.
Amid surging cases at both a city and state level, both residents and potential tourists seeking holiday-themed recreation will have to adapt their plans to abide by city restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Chicago's Christkindlmarket, a staple of the city's holiday festivities, has opted to go virtual, marking the first time in 24 years the famed German market will not be available to Chicagoans.
Kate Bleeker, director of expansion and marketing development for German American Events, says that this "was not a decision that was made lightly at all" and cites a high number of overseas vendors as a contributing factor, in addition to protecting the health of patrons and staff.
"One of the main things we are considering is really trying to keep that Christkindlmarket family together [and] keep the feel of the market going," she says. "And not sort of exclude those vendors that wouldn't be able to come over, because they're really something that is the heart of the market."
Bleeker says that the response to the virtual market—which includes popular items like mugs, ornaments, and hot chocolate, among others—has been "overwhelming."
"We're just so grateful to be part of this community and have this event that really resonates with people," she says.
Pop-up holiday bars, another sign of the season in Chicago, have also had to adapt their business models to meet city restrictions, which currently forbid indoor service at bars and restaurants.
Avondale bar DMen Tap, who also serve as vendors at Christkindlmarket, have adapted their Krampus holiday pop-up—traditionally involving themed games, and a cage for the titular creature—from an indoor setting to utilizing their Dönerman food truck outdoors. Co-owner Shawn Podgurski says that he wants customers to enjoy themselves while at the pop-up, while also hoping to avoid lingering crowds.
"We're really going to make this safe, we're going to mark off six-feet markers on the street and we're going to have a bouncer out there to let people know they gotta go, you gotta go," he says. "We want to make this sweet and nice and it's gonna be hard this year. But if we can do it and do it safe, we want to do it."
Logan Square bar Lost Lake, which has been operating to-go only throughout the pandemic, is currently hosting its pop-up Jingle Bell Square through its side bar. Co-owner Shelby Allison says that the bar will allow up to two people at a time to enter the location, with masks required from both patrons and staff. From there, guests can purchase bottled cocktails.
"Everyone's experience should be just a few minutes, but they'll have that, like, fleeting moment where they are in the bar surrounded by hot pink tinsel and sparkly lights," Allison says. "That way we can keep everyone's interaction masked, maintain a six-feet distance and under ten minutes at the very most."
In spite of the challenges presented by adapting a pop-up bar to meet COVID restrictions, Podgurski says he hopes that doing so can help raise spirits in a year that has left many feeling "fucking miserable."
Allison reiterated this sentiment, saying that while pop-ups have not helped to supplement the financial losses caused by the pandemic, they are ultimately a worthy endeavor in keeping the spirit of the season alive.
"Even if we can just kind of do this little charade that we like, went out and had a Christmas cocktail somewhere, even though we're grabbing-and-going and going straight home and enjoying it, you know, at home," she says, "it's an important thing to do."
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic producing a year unlike any other, Chicagoans are remaining faithful to the holiday season by counting their blessings.
"Nothing will be normal again, and not that normal was great, to begin with," Podgurski says. "Maybe we took a lot of things for granted in life and now that they've [been] taken away from us, we're all going to look forward in our Donerman family to the things that we missed this year, in 2020."
While 2020 has presented a seemingly never-ending series of unprecedented challenges, Bleeker remains hopeful that come 2021, Chicagoans will be able to celebrate the holidays free of restrictions.
"I know we're all really heartbroken over it, and it was probably the hardest decision that any of us have ever had to make, [but] we know that it was the right decision," Bleeker says. "But we're really just looking forward to next year." v