Most everyone agrees that there is something magical about trains. I remember when I was a child, riding the train out of the city and heading south along the shore to visit our great-aunt.

The conductor would walk through the cars calling out the name of the next small town at which we would stop. I came to know his litany by heart. I remember the soothing feel of the jostling car as I looked out the window at the passing world and the excitement of visiting our aunt. Or even without riding on a train, perhaps train magic flows from the lonesome sound of their whistles as we hear them pass by and head off on down the track. Only our imaginations know where they might be headed.

I found it curious to learn that no one seems to really know how the equally magic tradition of placing a train under our Christmas trees started, but it seems to date back to the turn of the last century. Perhaps it began as a part of holiday marketing by toy train manufacturers, or perhaps it was because in the early 1900s much of holiday travel was by train, but no matter what the origin, the tradition of a toy train running on a circular track under our Christmas trees is very real.

Our childhood Christmas tree always stood in the corner of our living room. I remember how I would crawl deep under the tree and curl up on the floor to watch the train pass by. The scent of pine and the oil from the toy engine mingled wonderfully. The train’s electric locomotive had a single headlight that shone on the wrapped gifts when our father turned out the living room lights ran the train on those special holiday nights.

It was somehow an unspoken truth that the train belonged to my father and brother. I loved lying behind the tree, thankful to be there, but I fervently wished for a train of my own, until one Christmas morning, after I thought that all of the presents had been opened, I decided to crawl under the tree to the far back corner of the living room. I paused halfway. There hid a huge unopened gift with a tag that very clearly read “To: Christine and her Mother, From: Santa.”

Our parents helped pull the gift out from behind the tree, and yes, inside was a train set, smaller scale than that of my father and brother, but so very beautiful. I hugged my mother, and we carried the box out into the middle of the floor to set it up. It was our train. I remember lying on the floor beside my mother as we watched our very own train chugging around on its very own track.

I eventually grew up and moved away, leaving the little train behind. My own children came into the world, and grew, and over the years we had many Christmas trees, but no trains ran beneath them. Our trees were more nontraditional.

One year we decorated our eight-foot ficus tree, though my favorite Christmas tree, that we used often over the years, was a beautiful antique hall tree that we strung with colored lights and decorated with a few special ornaments. One of our sons happily carries on the Christmas hall tree tradition.

And I forgot all about the little train, until one holiday season while visiting my parents, the children long grown, my mother told me that it was time to give me something that had really been mine all along. She held out the little engine. We hugged and sat right down in the middle of the floor to set it up while Greg and my father watched. It ran just like it always had.

So now that Greg and I are happily living in our spacious 930-square-foot log home, and have turned the little 388-square-foot cabin into our guest house, we once again have room for a Christmas tree in our lives, that is joyously surrounded by my childhood train.

I feel as though I could lie on the floor by the tree forever, watching the train go around and around on its track, Christmas lights shining on the tree overhead. I am wrapped warmly in memories and magic, and as the creek valley darkens outside the cabin, I find that it is becoming more and more difficult to get up off the floor and get dinner in the oven.

Perhaps I’ll just stay here for a wee while longer, though with certainty I will wish you all the very happiest of holidays.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in Ohio. Visit them at