Axios Chicago

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🎁 Happy Sunday! Each day is a gift, and today we'll help you spread the holiday cheer.

Today's newsletter is 799 words — a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: The 2023 Great Axios Chicago Gift Guide

Illustration of the Axios logo with a gift bow on it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

As the holiday season begins, you might be looking for help shopping for the Chicagophiles in your life.

What's happening: For the third year, we're releasing a very Chicago guide to holiday gift-giving.

How it works: We broke our recommendations down into four categories: food, books, subscriptions and, of course, the wild card category that could make for great white elephant gifts.

Be smart: Block Club has a great, comprehensive list of Chicago's small businesses.


Illustration of a mug of hot cocoa with a peppermint stick and marshmellows—an Axios "A" is on the mug.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Food has always been a gesture of love, but it might be time to think beyond the traditional fruitcake this year. Consider these gifts showcasing our city's culinary creations instead:

🍳 "The Lula Cafe Cookbook" ($50) by chef Jason Hammel, revealing the secrets of one of Chicago's most beloved restaurants. Or "Midwestern Food" ($27) by Big Jones chef Paul Fehribach, which explains why we eat what we do around here.

🧀 Nothing says Happy Holidays better than a homemade charcuterie board. Mr. Charcuterie Chicago will make them for you, using local ingredients. You can get a medium board ($110) that serves 6-8 folks, or gift a workshop that teaches you how to make your own (prices vary).

🍪 Cookies for a Cause: Some of Chicago's top chefs — including Leigh Omilinsky, Stephanie Izard and Paul Kahan — have teamed up to make a box of holiday cookies to wow guests and support food education in schools through Pilot Light. Order an assorted box for $30.


Illustration of two books forming the Axios logo in between other books.
Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

There are so many amazing local authors writing important books, we wanted to share a few.

📖 "King: A Life": Bestselling biographer Jonathan Eig has deservedly landed on many 2023 best of lists for this exhaustively researched biography of Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Among his original discoveries is one that suggests the rift between King and Malcolm X was overblown by an unexpected figure.

📻 "The Loop Files: An Oral History of the Most Outrageous Radio Station Ever": Local author Rick Kaempfer looks back at one of Chicago's most iconic radio stations.

  • Stories of Brandmeier, Steve & Garry, Kevin Matthews and the rest of the gang will surely be a great gift for anyone who listened to Chicago talk radio in the 1990s. Kaempfer should know; he was a producer at the station.

Subscriptions & memberships

Illustration of an opened gift box with a glowing light bulb inside.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's something special about giving an annual membership, especially if you just don't know what to get someone.

✍️ For the museum lover: It's always hard to pick just one. This year, we're going with the newer American Writers Museum on North Michigan Avenue. The AWM is a great place not just for learning about Chicago writers, but for literary events, too.

🍌 For the composter: For folks on your list who could go beyond the city's new drop-off composting program, you can order them a subscription for a pick-up service like Collective Resource, BlockBins Waste Not or The Urban Canopy composting services to collect their scraps.

White elephant

Illustration of a shop inside a snowglobe.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

If you want to be the partygoer who stands out at your next white elephant exchange, we've got you covered.

Pumpkin spice Malört: Despite blending two things people love to hate, this holiday concoction has proven the hot drink of the season.

  • CH Distillery is selling the bottles for charity at $150.
  • For a cheaper homemade version, Monica recommends adding a half teaspoon of pumpkin spice powder and a tablespoon of honey to a fun-sized bottle of Malört (6 for $12.99) and shaking it like crazy.
Photo of a bottle of liquor
Homemade pumpkin Malort. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Holiday advent calendars are always a hit, but if you want one of the highest quality, Rise dispensaries has got you covered.

  • This weed-themed advent calendar ($80) features 12 chillums (think small one-hitters) filled with different cannabis strains, totaling up to about 5g of flower total.

A personalized song: Chicago startup Songfinch will hire a professional musician to write a custom song for you. Prices start at $199, and help keep artists in business.

Go deeper: More gift ideas

2. Popularity contest: Last week's top news

Illustration of a phone with a like button in the shape of the Axios logo, which gets pressed, making the count of likes increase.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

💡 A lightbulb went off in your head over our report about Governor Pritzker's billion-dollar pitch to the EPA to help with the state's transition to clean energy.

🍜 Many of you gobbled up Monica's story about the new Gangnam Market that opened in River West.

📺 And of course, you pulled the lever several times to vote for your favorite local commercial of all time. Let's all sing it together ... 5-8-8 ...

What we're watching: The city is moving fast to erect the migrant camp in Brighton Park.

  • Also, baseball winter meetings begin, which could signal big trades or free agent acquisitions for both the Cubs and White Sox.

3. Photos of the day: Holiday history

Photo of crowds of people watching a parade.

State Street is jammed with people during the annual Christmas Parade on Nov. 19, 1949. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Have we told you that the Getty Images archives are too much fun?

  • Here are a variety of photos taken throughout the holiday seasons of Chicago's past.
Photo of a Santa Claus collecting money on the street
A man dressed as Santa Claus on a "commercial street" in Chicago, 1902. Photo: Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
Photo of a ship on a river
It was 109 years ago today that this photo was taken on the Chicago River. It's the schooner Arendal, docked at Clark Street, delivering Michigan-grown Christmas trees. Photo: Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images
Photo of a woman at a counter to wrap presents
The Christmas card and gift wrapping section at Marshall Field's on Jan. 22, 1944. Photo: Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Edited by Alexa Mencia and copy edited by Rob Reinalda.

🛏 Justin is preparing for the week ahead by doing laundry and peeling a bunch of potat.... Oh, who is he kidding? He's sleeping in.

📺 Monica loves seeing some of her favorite Chicagoans Natalie Moore, Erick Williams and Dario Durham on the latest season of Netflix's "High on the Hog" talking about Chicago culture and food.

✈️ Carrie is back from vacation tomorrow!