Chugging Through the Holidays

Train events for the child in us all

What is it about trains? From the earliest age, children are enchanted by their colors, shapes and sounds. Certain British train characters dominate preschool and little wooden train cars are frequently underfoot for parents. During the holidays, trains become toys not just for children but for adults as well.

Take for instance the train set that encircles my Christmas tree. It was purchased by a well-intentioned Great Aunt who overestimated the floor space in a New Orleans’ shotgun house. Yet we set it up every year because even though my son is on the cusp of outgrowing trains, he still insisted it be assembled. There my husband sat on the floor, working to piece together the plastic tracks and little houses while my son reverted back to his three-year-old self, making chugging noises with the engine. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how many times I ran the train around the tracks once it was completed. It’s fun!

Besides our in-home locomotive adventures, we have another tradition — we ride the train at Celebration in the Oaks every year. The illuminated scenes and decorations throughout City Park are best experienced aboard one of the little trains, an annual time machine that reconnects us to the wonderment of the holidays. My son will one day be a teenager and will huff his way through our family traditions, but for now, his face still lights up as we round every bend through the park he knows so well.

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The beauty of Celebration in the Oaks is just as powerful for tourists. On our trip there this year I met a mother and son from Massachusetts who were in New Orleans longer than planned due to a flight cancellation. The mother told me she Googled “Santa” and found Celebration. They rode the train right behind us and I overheard their exclamations of surprise and observations of beauty. After the ride, the mother told me she was glad for her flight cancellation because her son would always have this memory of New Orleans.

Celebration in the Oaks is open daily through Jan. 1. Gates open at 6:00 p.m. on weekdays and 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets for admission ($9) and train rides ($5) can be purchased in advance to avoid the lines. It will be closed on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

The Louisiana Steam Train Association has created a new event this year for train aficionados. On Saturday, Dec. 16 it will operate its historic Southern Pacific steam locomotive #745 for a one-time only special event.

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Families will board the train at the back of The Fly in Audubon Park at 2:30 p.m. and steam along the tracks to Mardi Gras World, where passengers will disembark and enter Mardi Gras World for a holiday party and screening of “The Polar Express.” After the movie, people will re-board the train and ride to the foot of Canal Street to pick up Santa Claus. It will then return to The Fly and Santa will visit with the children during the ride. Tickets are limited and must be purchased in advance. They are $125 per person, which includes an annual membership to the Louisiana Steam Train Association.

Families on a budget can participate in holiday train festivities at a free annual event by the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad. On Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 6:30 p.m. they will screen “The Polar Express” and host a meet and greet with Santa at their Engine Terminal located at 4822 Tchoupitoulas Street. Popcorn, hot chocolate and soft drinks will be provided. Guests are encouraged to wear pajamas and bring blankets or folding chairs to sit on during the screening. Space must be reserved in advance by emailing Details can be found on their Facebook page.

No matter your age, trains excite the imagination and encourage us to dream of where we will one day travel. Whether your destination is the North Pole or Poughkeepsie, New York, trains are indelible to the holidays.

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