CTA Holiday Train

December 18, 2011  |  Announcements, Special Features, Streetstyle
Santa sits, flanked by security, on an open air flat-bed car equipped with an emergency brake
Chicago is a magnificent place to live year-round but it’s especially apparent what a special city we live in during the winter holidays. If there’s anything Chicagoans love to do, it’s celebrate. We celebrate sports victories with record-breaking gatherings (Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup), we peacefully celebrate political milestones (Obama’s victory rally). And who could forget that we celebrate summer with a solid three months of street festivals every weekend? Yet it’s during the holiday season that the Windy City pulls out all the stops.
Front of the Holiday Train
The epitome of Chicago holiday cheer is the CTA Holiday Train. This drug-free psychedelic experience combines an Alice in Wonderland imagination with Santa Claus, no hallucinogens necessary. Although I had seen the Holiday train from far away last year I assumed it was a special no-passengers train. You know, the public transit equivalent of the neighborhood crazy person who uses Christmas lights to cover their entire house and decorations that cover the whole yard while publicly playing obnoxious holiday music. Every town has one of those houses.
Santa’s Reindeer
So last Wednesday I was waiting patiently at a CTA station for my train to come. I had gotten out of work at my normal time after a really tough day of fighting back tears since I had just found out that afternoon my friend Aaron passed away in a tragic accident. He was only 29 years old. I just wanted to get home so I could cry. All of a sudden I heard the familiar rumble of the El. When I looked up, I thought I was tripping on LSD. Before my eyes was a CTA train bedazzled with Christmas lights. When the doors opened two “elves” popped out of the car to hand peppermint sticks to riders. I smiled for the first time since I had gotten the bad news. It was a magical experience, a synchronicity, to end up on the CTA Holiday train and I couldn’t help but grin the entire way home. In life, sometimes it’s the small things and the coincidences that I find the most joy in. Think of the chances that on such a bad day I randomly ended up on the happiest train on earth?!
The CTA Holiday Train interior complete with tinsel, Christmas lights and peppermint stick poles
Throughout the 1990s the train was rumored to be an urban legend since it only made a few runs delivering food baskets to charities around the city; passengers were originally not allowed to ride. Over the years the CTA Holiday Train evolved into an all-out psychedelic extravaganza with CTA employees volunteering their time and money (for the decorations and candy) to make the train as lavish as possible. Not only are all the lights red and green, and the metal poles transformed into peppermint sticks, but cinnamon scent is pumped through the ventilation system so the train ACTUALLY SMELLS LIKE CHRISTMAS.

 I hopped off at Sheridan to get a photo of the entire train; the curve is the best spot to see it all

According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, the employees actually compete for a chance to work on and conduct the train as elves. We’re not known as the “City of Broad Shoulders” for nothing, as it’s the strong work ethic and kind hearts that define the Chicago spirit. This year the CTA Holiday Train will donate over 300 food baskets, each with the essential ingredients to make Christmas dinner, using food collected by CTA employees. This train is really about celebrating the holiday spirit and has become a way for the CTA to give thanks not only to riders with an amazing experience, but to the needy who are hungry.

For a chance to ride on the CTA Holiday Train click here to view a schedule with a timetable. The train is only running for a few more days so catch it if you can! If not, there’s always 2012.

*I hunted down the train for a second to gather pictures. And just because riding this train is so much fun.


  1. One of my favorite things about the holidays in Chicago 🙂

  2. Fun shots!

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