Steam Engines and Santa Claus
Young professional by day and culinary adventurer by night, Alicia loves to share hospitality and homecooked meals with friends. She writes Jaybird, a blog about finding home and happiness wherever life takes you. Say hi on Facebook or Twitter, and check out her recipe collections on Pinterest!
December marks an annual voyage into my family’s attic, a dusty, narrow space full of boxes and empty suitcases. Despite its splintery floor, I relish the first few steps into the attic because they mark the beginning of the holidays. For there, tucked between the wall of the house and its insulation, lie our Christmas boxes. We open up the huge storage bins every year and pull out decorations of all kinds: tinsel, ornaments with sentimental stories and a wooden sleigh for a plush Santa Claus. There’s even a grumpy angel, whose heavy, angrily-set eyebrows contrast with her sparkling white dress and silver wings. I have an irrational love for the grumpy angel, in all her emotional glory, and it’s my job every year to place her on top of our Christmas tree.
After visiting the attic’s storage space, we head down to the basement. The basement contains the rest of the pieces to our holiday setup: a Lionel train set and a snow-covered Christmas train layout. My grandfather loved toy trains, and when he passed away my dad inherited most of his collection. It has since taken on a life of its own, becoming a source of creative ideas and artistic inspiration for my dad. He chooses buildings to customize based on family interest and history; for example, my building is Alli’s Tack Shop, an ode to my childhood love of horses and dream of owning a ranch out west. Years ago, my dad built a special layout just for Christmas. It fits around the stand for our annual tree and creates the perfect setting for showcasing my mom’s Christmas village. An ice skating rink with moving figurines rises from white felt snow, and at the press of a button, the big black engine lets out an ear-piercing whistle. Somehow our two big dogs find the train layout interesting, but not so interesting that they try to eat it like most other new additions to the living room.
When it comes time to decorate the Christmas tree, my family gathers around the train tracks with carols and egg nog. Dad tells the same jokes every year and we all help with the search for a missing ornament–there’s always one, no matter how carefully we put them away the year before! The last time I was home, my dad and I went down to the basement on a special mission. After 24 years of trains in my parents’ house, it was time for me to pick out my own Christmas setup. We dove into old boxes and picked out a basic black steam engine, several cars and a small transformer to power it all. Then we picked out and cleaned each piece of the track that it would take to make a small but navigable loop for the old engine. Everything went into a new storage box: Alli’s Train Set.
The box is sitting in my childhood bedroom now, waiting for the day when I’ll someday take it to my own house. I can’t wait to pick out the elements of a perfect Christmas village or to share with my friends (and someday, more family members) this magical tradition. As the cars make their slow loop around our family Christmas tree this year, I’ll be thinking of all the happy holidays past…and dreaming of many more to come.
How do you celebrate the holidays with your family? Do you have a favorite tradition?