7 Things You Only Understand If You Grew Up in Illinois

In a lot of ways, Illinois (my home state) is like a miniature version of the entire country. We have a little bit of everything: a massive urban area, sprawling suburbs, mid-sized cities, and tiny rural towns. There are prairies, forests, rivers, wetlands, state parks with sandstone canyons, and miles of pristine beaches along Lake Michigan. We have agriculture, tech hubs, industrial areas, cultural centers, and top universities.

I’ve lived in Illinois for most of my life, so I’ve had the chance to experience everything this great state has to offer. My mom grew up in central Illinois, and loves to tell us about her summers spent detasseling corn (which involves walking through rows of corn and yanking the top off all the ears). I was raised in the Chicago suburbs, where we spent our time praying for snow days in the winter and pooling our money to buy milkshakes from Portillo’s, the go-to shake spot in my town. Now I live in the city, where I spend my time wishing snow days were still a thing and pooling money for baseball tickets. And though all these areas of the state are vastly different, they all make Illinois what it is. Here are a few things that anyone who grew up in Illinois knows to be true.

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1. You Know How To Pronounce “Illinois” Correctly

An alarming number of people, mostly from outside the Midwest, don’t know how to pronounce the name of our state. Illinois residents cringe every time someone says “Illi-NOISE” instead of “Illi-NOY.” Another insider tip: True Illinois residents don't say “Chi-Town” or “The Chi.” We just call it like it is: Chicago.

2. You Know Everything About Abraham Lincoln

Anyone who grew up in Illinois has become intimately acquainted with our nation’s 16th president, since he spent the majority of his life in our fine state. Just how much does Illinois love Honest Abe? Well, I went to Lincoln Elementary School, and our mascot was the Lincoln Penny. Almost all schoolchildren in the state of Illinois take a field trip to Springfield at some point to visit Lincoln’s former home. There are lots of other states that lay claim to Abe, but Illinois, the "Land of Lincoln," has to be the most serious about our dibs.

3. Winter Gear Is A Key Investment

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Last winter, I promised myself I’d ditch puffy jackets and snow pants and only wear sleek, chic jackets all winter. That lasted about a week before I shelled out for the warmest coat I could find. Winters in Illinois are brutal, and usually marked by some kind of terrifying name like “snowpocalypse” or “polar vortex.” Most residents know this is not the time to skimp on gear, and stock their closets with long down coats, fur-lined boots, and enough hats, scarves and gloves for a small army.

4. We'll Say We're From Chicago When We're Really Not

Whenever you go out of state, it’s just easier to say you’re “from Chicago” than it is to name a town that most people won’t know. In college I would shamelessly claim to be from Chicago, even though I really grew up 35 miles from downtown.

5. If You Grew Up Here, There's A Good Chance You Went To College Here

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If you grew up here, you probably spent a few weeks in high school making the rounds to visit colleges around the state, which is probably where at least half of your graduating class ended up. And if you happened to go to school out of state, you definitely spent a weekend visiting friends at in-state schools to tailgate for a homecoming game. Now that we’re out of college, some of my friends even visit their favorite Illinois school more often than their own alma mater.

6. Weird Local Festivals Are The Best

Almost every town in Illinois has some kind of annual festival, and most of them are pretty quirky. My town hosts the Scarecrow Festival each fall, where we fill the downtown square with more than 100 homemade scarecrows. Is it kind of creepy? Yes. Is it a blast? Also yes. Mattoon has BagelFest, Harvard has Milk Days, Collinsville has the International Horseradish Festival. It seems normal to anyone who grew up here, but people from out of state may question why we dedicate a whole weekend to celebrate fairies (looking at you, South Elgin).

7. Unpredictable Weather Means You're Always Prepared

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The weather in Illinois can change drastically and very quickly, even in a single day. Sometimes you're rocking a sweater in June, or you're wearing shorts in November. This means you probably keep both your warm- and cold-weather clothes handy most of the year – and always bring along that extra sweater or jacket, just in case.

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