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Cold City, Christmas Lights: How a Southwest Internship Brought a California Girl to Chicago

New Arrival

Sunny and 75. That’s what I grew up with in San Diego, California. But 34 degrees and a wind chill of 27 is what I braced myself for in Chicago, Illinois.


In my role as the Customer Engagement Intern, I get to travel to various sponsorship activations across the nation. The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival in Chicago was no exception. Lights Fest was something I was greatly looking forward to—it was one of my biggest projects this semester—but the stories of wind, sleet, and snow were making me apprehensive. Last year, the group walked through the parade as winds beat down and snow flew sideways, and this California girl was not about that life. But, back to work.


From the early stages of meetings about who the artist on our float would be to what element we wanted to include in the pre-parade festivities, I was fortunate to be a part of almost all decisions. My biggest task was managing the volunteers that would walk in the parade. I organized sign ups, wardrobe, and paperwork. I met with clothing vendors to choose what apparel our 75 parade walkers would wear, organized the various liability forms needed to participate, and made sure checkin and staging was good to go in order for everyone to enjoy the parade.


Justine in front of the iconic Cloud GateJustine in front of the iconic Cloud Gate

After an extensive shopping trip for clothes designed to withstand the elements, I was ready to go to the Windy City. When parade time came, after putting on numerous layers of clothing, the walking unit went through the parade route handing out our signature peanuts and pretzels to thousands of parade attenders. People were thrilled to see our group walking in the parade, handing out goodies, with the Flight Brigade leading the way. It was such a fun experience seeing the great reception Southwest received … and the weather was surprisingly perfect! Since I had never experienced the holidays in anything below 60 degrees, it was almost magical seeing Christmas lights through the snow flurries and being bundled up as Christmas music played throughout the streets.


The Lights Festival was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not only for the freezing temperatures, but the entire event-filled weekend. Seeing all the elements of months of planning come together was incredibly rewarding, and I felt like a proud mom seeing all the volunteers decked out in the wardrobe I helped design. While I may have only “survived” mild weather in most people’s opinions, I am truly grateful for this new experience with the Campus Reach program.