by Lizzie Duszynski
Need a fast-track to holiday delight? Follow our—dare we say—brilliant advice for your jolliest year yet. We bring you ten low-cost, merry-making ways to have you fa-la-la-la-la-ing in no time.

1. Make time for tea
We don’t know which view is more magical: The city as seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Peninsula, or the hotel’s grand halls decked out for the holidays. High tea beneath the lobby’s towering Christmas tree can offer a welcome reprieve from an afternoon amidst throngs of holiday shoppers. Our challenge to you: Sit down to tea and see if you don’t feel as if you’ve strolled into a holiday movie. Eloise, is that you?

2. Spike the cider
Add a swirl of bourbon to your apple cider for a holiday drink that’s sure to warm you up from the inside out. If cider’s not your thing, swing by The Spice House on Wells for a jar of their memorable mulling spices. Subtle flavors of clove and cinnamon give a holiday kick to any bottle of red. If you need a pro to help you pick your wine, we capital-L Love the old-fashioned feel of Madison Vine Wines in the West Loop.

3. Shop the seasonal markets
There’s been a dazzling explosion of wintertime markets this season, from Dose Market to the perennial Christmastime favorite, Daley Plaza’s Christkindl Market. This outdoor affair features dozens upon dozens of small-time vendors—many of whom travel all the way from Germany to sell their holiday wares. For a festive warm-up, don’t miss sipping steaming hot cider from a merry little boot.

4. Take in the lights
Go for an early evening stroll and take in the sights of the season. From garish (there are plenty) to simple and classic, the holiday décor setting your neighborhood aglow can be all you need to make your season bright. Some of our favorite spots for a holiday lights stroll include Logan Square, Wicker and Lincoln Parks, and, on the other end of the city, Beverly.

5. Circle the rink
Pull on your skates for an afternoon of zipping around the ice at Millennium Park. A post skating hot chocolate at Leonidas Chocolaterie, just a quick trip up from the rink on Michigan Avenue, makes for a delicious way to while away a wintry day.

6. Spin your seasonal favorites
For the smallest step that packs the biggest punch, get your records spinning. For something sweet, silly, and a bit old school, we’ll argue that John Denver & The Muppets never gets old. For traditional, you can’t go wrong with Bing Crosby or Ella Fitzgerald—and for something funkier, try Holiday Lounge: The Christmas Remixes. The Beef Wellington Remix of “Happy Holiday” promises to pep up any cocktail party.

7. Give joy to the world
‘Tis the season of giving, so why not spread a little holiday cheer to those in need? Our Giving Back Guide details ways to help others this season, whether that’s through donating items or your time to Chicago charities. We also love the idea of adopting a family for Christmas this year. Check in with a church or community organization near you to see if they have a gift-giving program. Oftentimes, they’ll provide a family’s holiday wishlist and give you the chance to play Santa.

8. Camp out on the couch
For the ultimate merry-making trifecta, combine numbers two and ten with an all-time favorite Christmas movie. Everyone has their go-to selections, but if you’re looking for suggestions, ours include Home Alone for some ‘90s nostalgia, Elf if we need a good laugh, and if we’re in the mood for something romantic and old-timey, Christmas in Connecticut. What’s even better, is that all three of our picks are ready for rent on i-Tunes. Now, when are those Kolaczki out of the oven?

9. Get to the zoo
The holidays in Chicago just wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Lincoln Park Zoo for its annual Zoo Lights Festival. Stroll the lit-up grounds while you sip on hot chocolate and mingle with the furriest of Chicago’s citizens. You can catch sight of Santa Claus, too, until he retreats home on December 23. The lights festival runs every evening through January 6.

10. Get in the kitchen
There’s nothing to spark a little holiday spirit like filling your apartment with the scent of freshly baked treats. Every family has their favorites, but our must-have for the holidays comes from an expert near and dear to one of our editor’s hearts—her grandmother. Commit this one to memory; her recipe for holiday Kolaczki (a jam-filled Polish confection) is sure to be a hit.
Christmas Kolazcky

1 lb butter
2 egg yolks
1 C white sugar
4.5 C flour
1 tsp vanilla
Solo pie filling

Cream butter and sugar. Beat. Add egg yolks and vanilla.
Add flour. Mix. If dough is too soft, put in fridge for 10-15 minutes.
Roll a small piece of dough into a ball, about the size of a walnut. Place on a cookie sheet and press down each ball with your thumb.
Spoon a teaspoon of filling onto each cookie.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remember: ovens vary, so start with 10 minutes. Bottoms should be golden brown.
Cool before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
And eat!