The Santa Trains Get Rolling

Rails with a seasonal bent are running through Orange and Fillmore.

A LONG FRIENDSHIP: Celebrating Christmas was something people did long before trains came around. But the invention of travel by rail formed ties to the yuletide, and not simply because people needed trains to get home to be with family and friends. Rather toy trains rose in prominence, and became very much the standard Christmas gift for a child (look at any greeting card of a tree from the last hundred years and you're likely to see a train track around the base). And once toy trains and the holidays became partners, it wasn't long before what the toys were based on followed suit. Soon real trains began to hang up the wreaths and bows come December and hold special outings that included caroling and cocoa and, yep, Santa himself. And nope, we're not talking about our big, super passenger trains here, but all the smaller or historic rails that still dot the U.S. and certainly California. And two SoCal trains are set to make things merry, as they do every year.

IRVINE PARK RAILROAD: This sweet, one-third-scale train in Orange not only boasts visits from Santa but a Santa's Village, story time, and a Santa moon bounce. (Please, we totally want one of those in our own backyard). The Santa trains'll run through Saturday, Dec. 23, and they do get quite busy, so getting tickets ahead of time is never a bad idea.

FILLMORE & WESTERN: It's called the Movie Train -- because it appears in lots of movies, natch -- so the Fillmore-based engine has a rep to live up to. And it does, with a quartet of holiday rides, including a Christmas Tree Train, the North Pole Express, Dinner with Santa, and New Year's Eve. Some are more for adults (see the final entry in the list), some are definitely made for families, and all will take you by some vintage California vistas. It's a cheery outing, on a historic train, meaning that the season's relationship with the rails will continue on for another year. What's the yuletide without train love?

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