Santa Fe is one of the coziest cities on Earth for the holidays. One of my favorite Christmas Eves ever was spent on Canyon Road, drinking more hot cider than I ever thought possible, oohing and aahing at the various forms of luminescence. I had several moments where I was certain I had somehow been transported to a Dickens novel-when the carolers sang "Good King Wenceslas," when it began to snow ever so gently and a fire crackled nearby, and when I saw a small child clap his red mittened hands excitedly as a shopkeeper leaned over the counter to give him a cookie. It's not that I don't love to celebrate with adults during Christmas, but truly, children are what really make the holiday season special. They just get so darn excited about everything! Snow isn't an objectionable thing that hinders driving, it means sledding! The holidays aren't stressful events wherein you run around like a mad person emptying your bank account and grimacing about family get-togethers, it means presents! And decorating! And time off of school! And more sledding!
One such an event that provides opportunity for plenty of holiday enthusiasm is the annual "Polar Express" Train on the Santa Fe Southern Railway. The 120-year old railway system began running again in 1992, with the Polar Express Train being one of the most popular rides. So popular, in fact, this year two additional rides have been added. Each ride (on December 17th, 18th, and 23rd from 6-7:30pm) carries about 160 passengers in one of three coach cars-charming vintage cars that have been authentically restored or renovated. Everyone is invited to come in their jammies (it's a good time to break out that onesy you've been hiding under the rest of your pjs), the conductor serves hot chocolate and cookies to all the children and as the day slips into the gloaming, the storyteller gathers everyone to the front of the car and reads The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Certainly we're not hard pressed in this state to find moments of enchantment, but there is something quite magical about this experience.
The story, written in 1985 and winner of a Caldecott Medal, is about a small boy who waits on Christmas Eve to hear the bells of Santa's sleigh, despite scoffing from his friends that his waiting is in vain. The child is soon rewarded for believing as a steam engine pulls up in front of his house. The conductor invites him to board the Polar Express, a train filled with children on their way to the North Pole. The children drink hot cocoa "as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars and eat candies with nougat centers as white as snow." They arrive at the North Pole and Santa offers the boy the first gift of Christmas-he chooses a simple gift: one silver bell from Santa's sleigh. The boy and his sister Sarah are enchanted by its beautiful sound, but their parents cannot hear it. The boy continues to believe in the spirit of Christmas and is able to hear the sweet ringing of the bell even as an adult. One of the most striking features of The Polar Express is its vivid sensory description-how cool is it that the story reflects what is actually happening with the children on the train?
Whenever possible, it's such a great idea to associate reading with an activity that kids enjoy. I have a friend who has very fond memories of her mother reading to her-and although she has no recollection whatsoever of what was read, she recalls quite distinctly sitting on her mother's lap, head against her chest, and listening to the cadence of her voice in sync with the beating of her heart. Is this the reason my friend loves to read? Your guess is as good as mine, but I venture having such a positive association can't hurt.
Why would we choose to ever stop reading to our kids? As a teacher, I read to high school students as often as I can and they love it. Who doesn't love to be read to? Certainly there is a whole host of logical reasons to do it-literacy is an issue, we want our kids to be smarter, and learn empathy from reading about different people, etc., but really, reading to your children can just be about creating intimate, magical moments between the two of you. Heck, even if you can't sport forty bucks to take the train, buy the book. Put on a conductor's hat, brew up some hot chocolate and listen for the silver bell. Your children are already geniuses; why not let them teach you?
Tickets are $14 per child, $21 for seniors and $25 for adults. For more information, call 505/989-8600 or visit www.thetraininsantafe.com.