There are a few Christmas traditions some Fox Valley residents don’t bother with: spending time with Santa and riding the holiday train at Blackberry Farm in Aurora.
“This is something we’ve been doing for seven or eight years,” said Abby Kovac of Big Rock, who arrived at the farm Friday night with her husband, Jim, and sons, Austin, 11, and Emmett, 6. fun time. Nice for family and close to home. “We were here when it was snowing, freezing, raining, and today the weather is beautiful.”
Temperatures in the low 50s during the early evening hours on Friday resulted in a sellout at Blackberry Farm as the Holiday Express festival continued at the resort. The event will end this week, running from Thursday to Sunday. For ticket information go to: www.blackberryfarm.info/special-events/holiday-express/.
The Fox Valley Park District facility has operated the holiday train every year since 2006, except for a pandemic pause in 2020. The train continues to be outfitted with accents found in the 2004 movie “The Polar Express,” which authorities describe as: a “replica steam engine train”.
Even though the train’s visiting season is fairly short, thousands of people continue to show up, said Abby Oldenburg, Blackberry Farm rental and events manager.
“On average, 44,000 people visit during the regular season,” he said. “We have always offered this in the first three weekends of December. “Thursdays were added in 2019 and we saw good growth with that.”
Many people continue to say “it’s a family tradition to come out and celebrate here,” Oldenburg said.
“This definitely gets people into the Christmas spirit with all the lights and Santa visiting and it definitely kicks off the holiday season,” he said. “To improve everyone’s experience, we added more lighting to the train this year, as well as more illuminated scenes around the train. The lighting is a ton more figurines overall and there are themed lights as well.
Prices for the festival, which also includes the chance to ride an unlimited number of trains, increased from $8 to $10 this year. Oldenburg said this increase “increases the cost of personnel and also results in a higher quality event.”
Staff said the opening weekend, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, wasn’t as packed as expected, but fans clearly made up for it a week later.
Incumbent Aurora principal Christy Pall spoke at Blackberry Farm Friday night and described the first week as “good but not sold out.”
“The crowd was good and everyone was happy,” he said Friday. “People are excited when they leave, but they also think it’s really beautiful with all the lights and settings. “I think the nice weather this weekend really helped.”
Annika Hopp of Montgomery was working as an engineer Friday night and said that while she had driven the train before, this was her “first weekend participating in the Holiday Express.”
“People get really excited when the train pulls up with all the lights,” he said. “It’s really nice. It’s a great job and it’s really fun. I saw how much people loved the train in the summer and I thought it would be even more fun now. We’ll probably do about 25 runs throughout the night.”
Christ Azarias and their 3-year-old son, Wyatt, of Somonauk, visited Friday night and said they have been to the farm many times in the summer, but this was their first time taking the Holiday Express train, Ashley said.
“We’re going to see Santa Claus and it’s a great time to be here since it’s a night in the 50s,” Ashley Azarias said. “We had only told Wyatt a few hours ago that he was coming to this and he was so excited. He just said ‘Yes!’ yell”
Christ Azarias said the unlimited rides offered on the train are a good idea.
“If there is unlimited travel, I would be surprised if we even land,” he said. “It was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. I can definitely see it becoming a family tradition.”
Jaclyn Wiora of Maple Park was a first-time visitor and said she wanted to “bring the little ones” in addition to celebrating her birthday.
“I did this by taking the train when I was a kid. “My father loved trains and we always took the train during the holiday season,” he said. “We went to Union Station and surrounding areas.”
Jaclyn’s husband, Rory Wiora, said he was also a train driver when he was a kid and “it was usually chill and fun.”
“The lights are amazing and it definitely gives a festive feel,” he said.
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.