An act of recollection

Visiting friends enjoy Tammy's train set, December 2009.

Visiting friends enjoy Tammy’s train set, Yorktown, Virginia, December 2009.

“The Polar Express was the easiest of my picture book manuscripts to write… Once I realized the train was going to the North Pole, finding the story seemed less like a creative effort than an act of recollection. I felt, like the story’s narrator, that I was remembering something, not making it up.”Chris Van Allsburg

If you’ve read Van Allsburg’s wonderful book (which is far more appealing than the movie that was inspired by it) you can probably identify with his description of that magical sense of “remembering” something that was purely fantasy, as if it has really happened.  I don’t know why trains in particular seem to go so well with Christmas, but there’s probably more than one reason why so many people set up toy train sets during the holidays.

Another favorite at Christmas is the imaginary Christmas village.  I have a tiny one that I seldom set up anymore, but I love seeing them in shops and especially in people’s homes.  The author of one of the blogs I follow has posted a detailed tour of her own Christmas village, so we can enjoy this magical miniature world through her efforts; see her video embedded below.  Thanks to Chris Van Allsburg,  Ingrid Schlueter and others who understand that we can travel in our imagination to places unavailable to us by any other road.

One year ago today

You can’t buy Christmas



  1. merry

    Good morning, Julia. Can you feel the excitement in the air? Christmas is almost here!
    Christmas blessings to you and Jeff, family.

    • Yes, the excitement is in the air…and the cars are on the road! We had to drive through a lot of traffic coming back from Bethesda early this afternoon. We are settled in at home and hope not to go back to the doctor until a week from today. Thanks so much for being here with us and sharing holiday wishes.

  2. Michael

    On our trip to Atlanta two years ago, we visited Stone Mountain around Xmas time, the Rushmore of the south? I seem to recollect the little train tour stopping for a short XMAS play that might not have been repeated in the more politically correct Northwest. But it was a beautiful display of lightning as I recall. My first visit to Stone Mountain.
    Here in Renton we have an unusual display called the “Xmas clam lights” based on a local restaurant chain called Ivars and it’s colorful owner Ivar Haglund- now deceased. If you can imagine these are huge dancing clams in festive lights that dance over the landscape. You have to be a little crazy to live here.

    • Mike, I can remember when Stone Mountain was only partially finished for many years. I haven’t been there in a long, but all my life when people would ask where I was from and I would say “Atlanta,” Stone Mountain was often the first thing they would mention (that, and changing planes at the airport en route to someplace else). Thanks for sharing the link to the story about the Clam Lights. I couldn’t get the video part to work, but I think it had something to do with my Flash player; perhaps others will have better luck. I think you have to be a little crazy to live most places nowadays!

  3. raynard

    Julia, i think , i might have told my wife about taking a trip together on Amtrak.( I seen they have nice train rides in Canada. I did take one back in Germany, it was almost a 24 hour train ride across the country.My military unit was pulling special duty at a ammo storage area.( first time I see a wild boar everything is bigger than on TV lol) The 25,000 dollar question, will I bake something for Christmas? I was looking at a chocolate candy cane cake.. hummm.It’s been awhile since I made gingerbread.. Now as Eddie Murphy as The Nutty Professor said”I feel fattered lol be blessed

    • Raynard, I used to have the most wonderful Gingerbread cookie recipe. It was made with whole wheat flour and I would make it for Matt’s teachers and therapists. Everyone would always ask for the recipe, and one time I evidently gave out my last copy and was never able to find it again. 😦 A chocolate candy cane cake sounds very good though! We took our sons on the Amtrak Coast Starlight up the California coast in 1993, all the way to Vancouver. It was a great trip even though we got stuck behind a de-railed train at Klamath Falls Oregon and had to get out of our sleeping car at 4:00 a.m.!

  4. Michael

    Do I need reservations for Mary Mac’s. Leaving on the 30th.

    • Mike, I don’t think it’s essential although we always seem to be there with a big group so we do call ahead. It’s quite a popular place so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to phone and see if they recommend reservations. Have fun!

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