Don't be surprised if you see Santa forgoing his reindeer-operated sleigh in favor of a present-packed train engine this year – at least in Maryland.
The Christmas tradition of model locomotives set in the quaint backdrop of snow-capped villages is one that has captivated train fans of all generations. Thanks to the efforts of Maryland fire departments and specialty museums, you too, can hop aboard the tradition this holiday season while appreciating the cultural heritage of the yuletide ride.
Enthusiasts of miniature train gardens explain the custom comes to Maryland courtesy of its German settlers, who valued the precision necessary to create the cheery intricate worlds and used the hobby as a diminutive distraction from the frigid, and sometimes dismal, life of war-torn Europe. Meanwhile, it is Maryland's Moravian descendants who brought with them the religious practice of placing nativity scenes under Christmas trees some 200 years ago.
As the state's population grew in size and diversity, it wasn't long before heritage mingled, offering the modern version of trains coursing through fields of Christmas evergreens, or garden holiday stages set to the sound of "chuggah-chuggah" steam engines. Nowadays, you can find the tracks of tiny little railways in nearby Delaware and Pennsylvania as well.
But you don't have to trace your lineage to either of these founders to appreciate the delicate beauty and subtle craftsmanship of the garden train tradition. Instead, just visit a nearby fire department or even shopping mall to join in the festive spirit this holiday season.
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum
901 West Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD
Celebrate the holiday season at Baltimore's largest holiday display of toy and model train layouts which rotate displays every weekend. There are also weekend train rides and photo opportunities with Santa through Dec. 19, and Frosty the Snowman through Jan. 2.
Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Closed on Christmas Eve and Day and New Year's Day.
Sykesville and Patapsco Railway
731 Oklahoma Ave, Downtown Sykesville, MD
This display of railroad history includes a 1910 Pullman Parlor Car, 1927 B&O Caboose, 1910 Interlocking Tower with N, HO, O, G-gauge and American Flyer model train displays. The last chance to see the train display Jan. 9, noon – 4 p.m. and open houses are normally held the 1st Sunday of each month from noon – 4 p.m and admission is free.
2711 Maryland Avenue, Ellicott City, MD
The "Holiday Festival of Trains" is an annual model railroad display featuring a new multi-dimensional O-gauge model train layout, a Thomas the Tank engine layout and the Museum's permanent HO model train layout inside the Freight House. Meet Santa on Dec. 18 and Frosty the Snowman on Dec. 19, or just come to enjoy the rest of the festival, now through January 30.
The museum will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Visit www.ecborail.org for more information, including the cost of admission.
See more on Ellicott City Patch
Pleasant Valley Community Fire Company,
2030 South Pleasant Valley Road
The train garden was redesigned for the 28th Annual "Christmas in the Valley," and features several new attractions, as well as some favorites from past train garden displays.
Visit now through Jan. 9, from noon - 4 p.m. Christmas Eve 3 p.m. - 7 p.m. Dec. 28-30 from 4 p.m. - 8 p.m., Dec. 26 and 27, from noon - 6 p.m.
4812 Butler Road.
Come celebrate the Glyndon's third annual Train Garden, on display now through Jan. 9 and has free admission. The exhibit is open Monday through Friday, from 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon – 9 p.m. until Jan. 9th. Saturday features Santa appearances!
The Shops at Kenilworth
800 Kenilworth Drive
The Shops at Kenilworth features over ninety-two feet of model trains, animations and hundreds of favorite characters in their 23rd annual "Making Tracks to Kenilworth for the Holidays" spectacular. The annual Christmas train garden, which runs through January 7, also includes bridges and animated figures created each year by The Train Group.
The train display is open during mall hours and on Dec. 18, trains begin running at 8 a.m. for breakfast with Santa, to benefit Nikki Perlow Foundation. Tickets are on sale at Growing Up Shoppe.
The Santa Experience runs through Christmas Eve at Depot, located on the 2nd Level, Mondays - Fridays noon – 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.– 8 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sundays noon – 5 p.m., and Christmas Eve 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. While you're in the mall, check out the train layouts down in Stebbins Anderson too!
Extended mall hours for the holidays are Monday -Saturday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Christmas Eve from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Dec. 26 from 11 a.m.- 7 p.m., closed Christmas Day, open New Year's Eve from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and closed New Year's Day.
Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department
5200 Southwestern Boulevard
The 17th Annual Old Fashioned Christmas Garden is open now through Sunday January 2, 2011, including a Dec. 18.
Other opening time are Monday - Friday 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.- 8:30 p.m., Christmas Eve 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., closed Christmas Day, open New Year's Eve 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.Admission is free, although donations are welcome.
More info here on Arbutus Patch.
College Park Aviation Museum
1985 Cpl. Frank Scott Drive
College Park, MD
Featuring a "Holiday Trains and Planes" exhibit this holiday season, College Park Aviation Museum gets ready for the festivities as miniature trains, villages, tunnels and depots spark the imagination and bring history to life thanks to The National Capital Trackers, who bring a fascinating and constantly moving display of model railroads to the museum.
Saturday, Dec. 18 through Friday, Dec. 24, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
National Capital Trolley Museum
1313 Bonifant Road
The "Holly Trolley Fest" rides again with the re-opening of the museum this year! Enjoy the model garden railway and holiday village inside the museum, or ride with Santa on the street cars on Dec. 18 and 19, from noon - 5 p.m.
More information on Colesville Patch
The National Christmas Tree
What's a Christmas tree without a train running around it? For the 16th consecutive year, enjoy the National festivities now through Jan. 1, 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. daily.
Frederick County Society of Model Engineers
423 East Patrick Street (near the Great Frederick Fairgrounds)
The club HO and HOn3 layout is housed in a restored heavyweight Chesapeake & Ohio six-door baggage type car and G-scale layout is also featured. Annual Winter Open Houses are Jan. 9, 16, 23, 30 and Feb. 6.
Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum
300 South Burhan's Boulevard (US 11)
The "Trains of Christmas" Show features an "O" Scale 3-Rail Christmas layout with steam and diesel trains by Lionel, MTH, Williams, Weaver and others operating in snow scene on four levels. The smoke and sounds of the steam and diesel locomotives fill the air with railroading past and present. Railroad artifacts, photos, trains for kids to run, and a gift shop too.
The museum exhibit is open now through Feb. 27, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. and also open Dec. 27 and 30. Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year's Day.