When Christmas {Train} Comes to Town

Like most toddler boys, Little Lion Man is obsessed with trains.  Although when my oldest daughter was his age, she loved trains too.  In fact, because she loved Thomas and trains so much, we saw The Polar Express in the cinema when she was close to his age, however, she was a timid toddler and a few of the scenes frightened her.

But it didn’t frighten my Little Lion Man.  He hollered out, “Whoa!” when he watched the Polar Express cascade down the mountainside like a roller coaster.

Since Little Lion Man loves locomotives, we boarded the 7 ½ gauge CP&G Railroad at Crews Lakes Wilderness Park for a ride on the Christmas Train to the “North Pole”.  When Little Lion Man spotted the little engine chugging down the track, he had a similar reaction to The Polar Express. “Whoa!  Mama, it’s a train!”

Winding along tracks through the woods, reminded me of a similar train in England years ago.  On that train ride long ago, Allana met my friend, Suzie, her mum and Father Christmas.

But I digress.

Over the track and through the woods to Santa Claus we go went, but Little Lion Man wanted nothing to do with the big man in red.  He preferred to watch the trains arriving at the station.

After a quick photo opportunity and an even quicker word with Santa to remind him of the toys to bring, we were back on our way home.

At the end of the day, that little train ride brought a great deal of joy to one little boy.

And the rest of us had fun too. 

Merry Christmas!

What Christmas music is moving you this season?

Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Where Are You Christmas?

During this holiday madness, many of us drag our children to visit Santa at the mall.  This year, I’ve decided to eliminate this task from my list of Christmas chores and I also omitted it from our Advent calendar activities.

With joyful fondness, I remember my childhood years sitting on Santa’s lap while my mom photographed us.  Years later, my sister and I would giggle over our toothless grins, obnoxious hair-dos and outlandish fashion statements.  Pictures with Santa are truly a happy childhood memory for me and something I wanted to recreate for my children.  However, over the years, I have grown such a strong distaste for our local mall Santas.

During my motherhood years, I shuffled my children off to the mall dressed in holiday attire to sit on Santa’s lap.  I would start snapping photos only to be told to refrain from taking pictures by an angry Santa helper.  Despite an angry elf hollering at me, I continued snapping pictures.

Then, last year’s experience ended our annual visit to Santa.  After another scuffle with an angry elf, I discovered an uncooperative Santa had photobombed my pictures by not looking at the camera.  Thanks for your fine example of the Christmas spirit, Santa.

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Christmas 2007

After our disappointing Santa experience last Christmas, I had an a-ha moment and drew a line in the sand.  The Santa spot is simply another kiosk in the mall trying to sell you something, which is no different from the perfume kiosk or the beautiful hands kiosk.  The mall Santa is a cleverly crafted marketing scheme by the shopping mall Scrooges and photography studios to squeeze money from consumers.  As a result, we spend year after year getting sucked into the holiday madness with must-have Christmas toys, jolly Christmas merchandise disguised as a spontaneous new traditions (such as the latest hideous craze, the Elf on a Shelf) and photographs with Santa as to not miss out on any of the holiday version of keeping up with the Joneses.

Growing up as a child, the department stores offered Santa as a service to the community.  Of course, it was a way to draw customers, but a visit with Santa was free and you could take as many pictures as you wanted without an angry elf or shop owner telling you otherwise.

A few years ago, on our visit to the U.K., we stumbled upon a department store Father Christmas, who happily chatted with Allana.  He graciously smiled and posed for photos.  After our chance encounter, he gave Allana a book as a gift.  No purchase was necessary to enjoy a visit with Father Christmas or the book.

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Father Christmas at Jenners 2004

Nowadays in the U.S., everything is about ways to get people to spend money.  The cheapest portrait with Santa is approximately $16.  Why should anyone be forced oreven coerced into buying a photo of their child crying in Santa’s lap which will only be shoved into a pile with other tacky and useless portraits, like school portraits?  (At least school portraits are a fundraiser for the schools.)  If I choose to snap my own Santa photos, it costs the portrait studio nothing to hit the delete button.

The new mall that opened in our area, The Shops at Wiregrass, is hosting an hourly Christmas light show each night until Christmas.  The Symphony in Lights is choreographed to the music of Trans Siberian Orchestra and this free show is a spectacular sight.

Hiding behind the gigantic, twlinking Christmas trees is the Santa kiosk with a very short line and a sign that states, “Please refrain from using your personal photographic equipment”.

How can this mall justify the expense for an extravagant light show, which included paying the rights to use the music of Trans Siberian Orchestra and the astronomical electricity bill of said show, but can not budget the cost to hire their own Santa as a service to the community?

When visiting Walt Disney World or Universal Studios, a cast member will gladly snap a picture of your family if asked.  There’s no guilt or shame involved and certainly no high pressure sales pitch to purchase a portrait before you leave the theme park.

Grinchmas 2003

Grinchmas 2003

Every mall in our area is owned by a number of large corporations and could easily afford to hire their own Santa or fleet of Santas to work throughout the holiday season.  The malls could allow parents to take their own photographs, but also offer portrait packages as an additional service without the high-pressure sales pitch from an angry elf.  Perhaps, the elves could even offer to take pictures, like a Disney or Universal cast member.

In my perfect little Santa Workshop, a sign would suggest monetary donations for a local homeless shelter.  No purchase would be necessary to visit with Santa and the Santa helpers would happily offer to take family snapshots with your personal photographic equipment.  If you choose to buy a portrait, then a portion of each portrait sale would be donated to a local homeless shelter.  Near the Santa Workshop, visitors would find a toy collection box for needy children and another collection box for a local food bank.

In this scenario, the true spirit of Christmas would be evident.  Feeling the Christmas spirit, visitors, like me, would be more incline to give a $20 donation to feed and clothe the homeless rather than buy a useless portrait of their children.  It would be a green,charitable Christmas for me, saving the fate of a few trees from becoming printing paper while giving more green to those in need.

Why during these trying times are we seeing more Grinches and Scrooges when more families feel like Bob Cratchit?

With a looming recession, an increasing number of people out of work and many families losing their homes, homeless shelters are being flooded with families and hitting a record high this year.

I had hoped that our local malls and department stores would have a change of heart this season.  I know I have had a change of heart by refusing to take part in the mall Santa experience.

More families cutting back on frivolous spending could explain the shorter line to visit with Santa.  Or perhaps, more people, like me, are choosing to remember the true spirit of Christmas.  Hopefully, the mall Scrooges will remember their Christmas pasts and the Grinches of the corporate world will stop trying to steal Christmas.

Where are you Christmas?  Why can’t the malls find you?