There is probably only one person who could fill the Naperville Metra train station on a cold Saturday morning before noon: Santa.
And since a trip to the North Pole may be too long for kids and their parents, the Candy Cane Express that ran through Naperville seemed like the next best thing.
St. Jude’s Research Hospital offered the Candy Cane Express train ride Saturday with departures from Metra stations in Aurora, Naperville, and Union Station in Chicago. The event was organized through Red Frog Events in Chicago. The train ride included a chance to hang out with Santa and his elves, enjoy some treats including candy canes, and listen to carolers sing Christmas favorites as the miles passed.
The round-trip excursion from Naperville was sold out.
Conductor Bryan Sechrist spoke with guests in the station minutes before the train arrived, announcing it would pull in well before the noon departure. Sechrist then took tickets at the station along with other conductors who were placed along the platform.
“This is the first time Red Frog has done this event, and this is the first train heading downtown, which left from Aurora,” Sechrist said. “We’re having a choir walk through each of the train cars to sing Christmas carols, and Santa and Mrs. Claus are going to visit everyone. We’re also serving milk and cookies and passing out coloring books. This is the first event like this we’ve done, and the kids are really excited.”
The Metra station was already packed with wall-to-wall people by 11:15 Saturday morning. Kids were dressed in holiday costumes as were many parents like Jerry Castro of Chicago, who said he came out to Naperville to meet his three nieces and nephews, two of which are twins. Castro wore an elf hat with ears, which he said he has worn the past three years.
“People say because of my hat and my stature that I look like an elf,” Castro said laughing. “The hat makes me special. I put it away in the closet each year, and I’ve been forced to wear it the last three seasons but I sure get a lot of attention when I wear it.”
Castro’s wife Genevieve said it’s hard to take her husband seriously when he wears his hat, but she was looking forward to her first train ride with relatives.
“I love kids, and I love watching them celebrate Christmas,” she said. “That, above all, is my favorite part of the holiday.”
Jennifer Giorgetti of Lockport came with her husband Joe and their three children, ages 6, 5 and 3. She said that everything about Christmas and celebrating at home “is magic.”
“We bought our tickets for this nearly a month ago, and we’ve really been looking forward to the train ride,” Jennifer said. “We want to see Santa and hear the Christmas carols.”
Frankfort resident Tara Hanrahan had her hands full Saturday as she brought by herself her four children, who range from 2 to 8 years in age.
She said her husband was called into work at the last moment and that she had an extra ticket if anyone needed it.
“We came to this station in Naperville to ride the train, because the one by us was already sold out,” she said. “My husband and I just thought this would be something fun to do.”
Erik Swanson and his wife Jennifer of Woodridge said a year ago they enjoyed a pre-Christmas event with their children at Blackberry Farm and were looking for a little warmer venue this time around.
“We were outside at the farm last year and it was really too cold,” she said. “We’re looking for something warmer this year, and riding the train is going to be a lot better.”
Relative Kathy Swanson met up with Erik and his wife Saturday along with her two children, Kadee and Daniel. Kadee said she was looking forward to seeing Santa and letting him know what her Christmas wish would be this year.
“I want a laptop,” she said. “That’s what I’m going to ask for.”