The magic of Christmas was all around Tinley Park this weekend with its annual Toyland Parade and Holiday Market on Oak Park Avenue and the Tinley Park District's Polar Express rides on the Metra train. And of course to make it even more delightful for everyone were appearances by the man in the red suit, Santa Claus.
To begin the weekend's events, many local groups and businesses walked in the Toyland Parade with parade walkers decked out in holiday cheer from Santa hats to Rudolph antlers. In addition, parade participants each brought a new toy to be donated local charities. Some of the littlest participants were part of the KinderCare organization in Tinley Park. Staff and family members of the 80th Avenue Tinley Park KinderCare were on hand to carry the Kinder Care banner and deliver toys to the drop off area near the holiday market.
Dawn Baldovin, Tinley Park 80th Avenue KinderCare thought it went very well.
"It was very organized," she said. "It was nice to see so many people come out and participate and donating toys – even on a cold and snowy day."
The parade concluded at the Holiday Market located at the Oak Park Avenue Metra Station. The market had plenty of local vendors offering their services, and best of all the market was located in a warm tented area. Guests could buy Christmas candies, popcorn, clothing items, jewelry, and an assortment of other things as well. Kids were even able to make Christmas cards for the American troops overseas. Also available at the Oak Park Avenue Metra Station were horse and carriage rides and pictures with Santa.
Although, the Holiday Market lasted for two days, there were other holiday activities going on as well. One of the most popular was the Polar Express sponsored by the Tinley Park District.
As children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends gathered in the 80th Avenue train station house, The Conductor (also his name in the movie and book) greeted children and let them know the train "was on time" as he peered at his pocket watch. He also let the children know that it was "very important to have your ticket."
Then one of Santa's helpers, Elf Stacy Green (also an employee of the Tinley Park District), let Polar Express guests know that when boarding the train to make sure that families get onto train cars that are staffed with Tinley Park District employees.
And the train was on time. It pulled out of the Tinley Park 8oth Avenue Metra station at 1:28 and headed to the downtown Joliet train station. During the train ride, employees of the park district read the Polar Express storybook out loud to set the atmosphere of what was to come. In addition, they sang Christmas carols with the families too. Once at the Joliet train station, Polar Express riders were told they could get off the train, but had to be back on the train by 2:15, which did not leave a lot of time for the task at hand – FIND SANTA! Those who found Santa were then instructed to help him get onto the train. As The Conductor stood outside the train and swung his lantern to let people know to board the train, Polar Express riders got back onto the train and awaited their visit from Santa and his helpers.
As the train pulled out of the Joliet train station, Santa made his way through the train cars and handed out cookies to each guest, and a special bell (that only those who truly believe will be able to hear forever) to the children. Kids were smiling from ear to ear as Santa greeted each of them, and presented them with the bells. For many of the families this was their first Polar Express ride.
Bridget Esposito, of New Lenox, said that the experience was wonderful. "We will definitely do this again. It was a great family experience." Esposito said. She also added that what made it even more wonderful was that her younger daughter, Anna, 20 months, enjoyed it as much as her 3 year-old, Natalie, did. Also first time riders were the Marynowski and Conneely families. Adam, 4, and Ryan, 7, Marynowski said they had a great time.
In addition, Ellie, 2 ½, and Emily, 4, Conneely also said, "It was a real good time!" Parents to Ellie and Emily, Chris and Eileen said, "We loved it!"
Another first-time rider, Joe Esposito, of Tinley Park, and grandpa to Natalie and Anna Esposito and Anthony Koler (Polar Express riders) added, "Watching all of the little kids singing Christmas carols and watching the moms and dads participate too brought back what Christmas was really about - that we all go back to our childhood days that revolved around love and family."
Sandy Chevalier, Tinley Park District Superintendent of Recreation, said, "I thought it went very well. We take care of about 900 people throughout the day, and the staff does a great job. I think everybody did great job. We work really great as a team!"
When all was said and done, the train pulled back into the 8oth Avenue Metra Train Station, and riders exited the train with their Polar Express travel mugs (a gift given to them from the park district) and then had their mugs filled with hot chocolate and marshmallows. Then no sooner than that, off in the distance bells could be heard, as Santa was whisked away back to the North Pole to get ready for his next adventure, Christmas Eve!