The whirl of an electric motor was the first hint of what was there. A small light shone as it made its way out from a pile of presents stacked around the Christmas Tree – dim, then brighter as it rolled closer. It had a bright red nose, rounded roof, and was black with white diagonal stripes. My face was pressed to the tree skirt as the train arrived – my train. My very own train. Delivered by Santa Claus, my rail empire had begun.
Trains and Christmas go together like Smoked Meat and Rye Bread or Bagels and Cream Cheese. Of course, the smoked meat is from Schwartz’s and the bagels are St. Viateur’s.
For many decades, kids have received a train of some form under the tree like I did so many years ago.
I don’t know where the tradition of placing a train around the base of Christmas tree began. It could be that Western society’s idea of a “traditional” Christmas really blossomed around the same time that steam trains were the dominate form of land transportation. Commercialism likely had a hand in it as Lionel and Marx tinplate trains were among the most expensive and must-have toys for kids.
Maybe the appeal of large steam-belching mechanical things on wheels that could move at fast speeds propelled kid’s imaginations and some marketing person thought the two went together. If the latter is the case, that marketing person was a genius!
Since I received that gift 42 years ago, I have had a mostly one-track mind for the hobby, pun intended. A basement full of collectible trains that run on a line 1/87th the size of the real thing occupies my spare time – when not tasked with to do lists, football, or work.
My wife Isabell and I chose to have a larger family (four kids) and trains have played a part in their childhood too. Our oldest received her first train – Thomas the Tank Engine – around the tree when she was three years old. Her brothers all have received trains as kids growing up. Some have remained interested, others not so much – at least what they will admit.
For model railroad enthusiasts there is a saying, “get your kid into model trains and they won’t have enough money for other vices.” I did my part to try to properly afflict my kids with that interest.
I doubt my parents thought that a simple engine, a couple of cars and loop of track would start an interest to last me a life time. It makes me wonder what traditions and gifts we’ve been fortunate to give to our kids will inspire. Will that Lego set or book fuel my kids’ interests for decades to come? I hope so. And if not, that’s okay too.
Some traditions still remain, even though it is starting to feel different. Empty-nest syndrome is quickly approaching. But each year there is still a train around the Christmas Tree in our living room – a Disney one with Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald Duck and Goofy. Yes I refuse to grow up, and that’s okay too.
Merry Christmas everyone, and thanks for reading.
This column was originally published in the December 21, 2022 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.