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The Chicago Holiday Train…All Aboard!

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A ride on the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) Holiday Train is a truly unique experience and one not to be missed during the holiday season in the Windy City! Whether you like or even celebrate Christmas, this cheerful train is sure to make your spirits bright. For families in particular, I guarantee it is one of those experiences you will remember for years to come, and if you live in Chicago, this might even become one of your family’s holiday traditions, as is the case with our family.

The Holiday Train is actually a “regular” six car Chicago subway/elevated train that is used for public transportation, but seriously dressed up for the holidays. According to my research, the CTA Holiday Train first appeared on Chicago’s “L” tracks in 1992. “That first year, employees posted a sign on the front of the train that read, ‘Seasons Greeting from the CTA.’ The train delivered food to various charities around the city. Today, the train delivers some 300 fully-stocked food baskets to 30 area charity groups.” The Holiday Train was almost shut down in 2004 due to budget cuts, but luckily, it was saved at the very last minute so that this delightful Chicago holiday attraction could continue spreading joy and holiday spirit throughout the city during the Christmas season.

Over the years, the Chicago Holiday Train decorations have became much more elaborate with train cars spectacularly decked out both on the outside and the inside. Covered with thousands of bright glittering lights, the train itself is “pulled” by reindeer and led by Santa on an open sleigh, waiving to the boarding passengers and on-lookers alike while merrily shouting “Ho-Ho-Ho!” (I’m not kidding!)

Once on board, passengers are greeted by cheerful elves handing out candy canes and singing Christmas carols. The car interiors are decorated with bows, garlands and, of course, green and red lights. The hand poles are transformed into (inedible) candy canes and the seats are covered in festive holiday upholstery.

Santa, leading the Chicago Holiday Train

Santa, leading the Chicago Holiday Train.

Personally, I discovered the Chicago Holiday Train unexpectedly many years ago during a downtown commute from work. But its magic really came to life when we experienced it as a family. When we first took our children to see and ride the Holiday Train, they literally squealed with delight. Now, slightly older, they love watching the happy commotion on the train platforms when the train comes to stop at each station, joining in the singing of Christmas carols and giggling at funny signs and riddles posted inside the cars. (“Why did Rudolph put pepper on his holiday cards? He wanted to send seasoned greetings!”) For me, the best part is observing fellow passengers, beaming with holiday cheer, wishing each other “Merry Christmas” and for once not minding that the train might be crowded or late.

Family pose with the Chicago Holiday Train elves

Family pose with the Chicago Holiday Train elves.

The Holiday Train runs through the months of November and December on select CTA lines at select times (normal CTA fares apply). As spectacular as it is, I often hear that many Chicagoans have heard of the train, but have never actually ridden it.  It often comes as a surprise for many commuters who come to catch their “regular train” just like I did more than a decade ago. And, as you can imagine, most out of town visitors do not know it exists. Now that you know of this great Chicago holiday attraction, check out the CTA website for this year’s exact times and routes and enjoy your ride!

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A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…

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