Santa or his helpers show up a lot of places every December, but I had never met one with a big entourage until riding the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.
Train buffs might delight in the century-old depot or in knowing the tracks were first laid in this northwest Georgia town in 1886.
The rest of us can immerse in the magic of Christmas because this railroad crew believes too.
“We wait all year for the Santa Train,” says cheerful conductor Ray Leader. “The other trains all year are delightful, but it’s the Santa Express and Night Train we love best.”
Mrs. Claus told me the same thing; Santa himself was too busy eyeball-to-eyeball with the little kids to entertain a question.
This Santa’s totally focused
Santa gave his undivided attention to each child on my train car, one at a time. He didn’t lump brothers and sisters together as a group to move on quickly. He also gives each one a jingle bell on a ribbon, keepsakes perhaps to hang on your own tree.
Babies in arms? Santa seemed skilled at cooing and comforting while brand-new parents barely focused photos because they were grinning so broadly.
Teamwork from this North Pole entourage
Elves dressed like Christmas trees or gingerbread men strolled about, chatting with children and the adults they brought with them.
Then they positioned themselves in that alluring open-air space where train cars are coupled, building readiness for the arrival of another character.
Skillful timing: just enough downtime to look out the windows at Toccoa River scenery, winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Rudolph doesn’t fool the kids—easy to see he’s a man with a costume but I got the feeling seeing him as pretend reinforced their faith in Santa.
Stories, songs and colors
“Twas the Night Before Christmas” became reason enough for children to gather in the center of the car with for a reading of the fabled poem.
A gift of individual crayons and coloring books, including traditional Christmas songs, lured many children to artwork, only to look up when the next visitors arrived—boy and girl elves that look like the Elf on the Shelf in many households.
That caused a ripple of recognition in the children around me, and requests for photos.
Keeping up with Santa
The young-boy elf sticking close to Santa’s elbow presented a candy cane to each child and Mrs. Santa guided little ones toward photo-friendly positions and comfortably chatted with adults awaiting their child’s turn.
Faith and hope like the Christmas message resonate with her, she said, after a 33-year career in juvenile justice.
Experiencing the train
If you can possibly veer from the magic of Christmas, ride intentionally to show the kids what train travel was like for other generations, and how people get around on other continents.
Don’t just sit in your double-facing wide seats—look out the big windows at the passing countryside and cross into another train car. Some are climate-controlled, all enclosed, and some are open-air.
More about the train
1:00 pm and 3:00 pm rides through Christmas Eve
Train schedules every month except January and February.
Other special themes include Easter Eggspress, Firecracker Special, Pumpkin Pickin’ and New Year’s Eve.
Photo Credit: Jodi Broadaway Dunn
Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972. She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.