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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Countdown with Sharon Donovan

Hello and welcome to Day 1 of my Christmas Countdown Blog! I would like to start the countdown with my favorite Christmas memory. Putting up the train set. Won't you take a trip with me through the Swiss Alps? Enjoy the tour!
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The world of make believe is portrayed through a child’s imagination each year through the magic of Christmas. Anything is possible. Hearing a favorite story or watching a movie or reading a book unlocks the door to an endless array of fantasies. This is a mystical and enchanting time for a child, and I was no exception.

The magic started at my house when we put up the Lionel train set. Around the first week of December, my family transformed the basement into a captivating village from another place and time. I couldn’t wait. As my mom and sister and I unwrapped the train set, cottages, tunnels, and other accessories from their boxes, my dad and brother made a platform out of a piece of plywood and two wooden horses. Once that was up, they nailed down the track and rigged the lights to bring the village to life.

As the evening unfolded, the pounding dwindled off to a few final taps of the hammer. With the track safely secured on the platform, we set up the train station along with the transformer to make it run. As our village went up, anticipation soared. Nothing in this world could compare to watching the rural town come to life with its stucco cottages, duck pond and covered bridge, and a farmer’s stand surrounded by a rough fumed fence.

Standing back to admire our little town, I wondered where the train was heading. Deciding it could go anywhere I wanted it to go, my creative mind went to work as I allowed myself to drift off into a fantasy. Conjuring up images of pine forests lined with chestnut trees, blueberry bushes, and long walking paths, I gave my imagination free rein.

I’d just finished reading Heidi, and her adventures in the Swiss Alps sounded like so much fun. Rolling green pastures under snow-capped mountains high in the hilltops flashed through my mind along with fresh country air, pine trees, and friendly people. Thinking of the millions of paths to explore and all that rich Swiss chocolate and good cheese, I decided to take a trip to the Swiss Alps. Scurrying to catch the train before it took off, I was just in time as the conductor rang his bell and bellowed out, “All aboard!”

Large sturdy farmhouses framed by green pastures landscape the mountainside. Lazy milka cows graze in the grass alongside old wooden barns. White chalets with flowering window boxes and carved wooden doors sit amidst the sunny valley, and a cheerfully splashing creek meanders through the forest thickly studded with needle and moss-covered boulders.
Looking up at one of the mountain chalets, I notice a lady leaning out the window holding a sprinkling can, ready to water her wild purple orchids. Hearing a rustling in the pine needles, she waves a cheery greeting. “Hello down there!”

Toward the gushing water stream, a man whistles as he turns the wheel of the butter churn. From the charming cottage trimmed in bric-a-brac, the aroma of blueberry pancakes waft through the clean mountain air. A lady sticks her head out the door and yells, “Breakfast is ready – come and get it!”

Dairy farms are nestled in the valley beneath snow-capped peaks. Cow bells tinkle in the breeze as cattle wander freely in lush undulating meadows, munching on grass without a care in the world. “Moo – moo.” Higher up on the slopes, mountain billy goats roam the hillside, and a golden eagle soars across the sunny blue sky.

My adventure takes me deeper into the woods where there are huge boulders embedded in the ground. Cheerfully chirping mountain birds sing to me as I pick a handful of blue bells, and a woodpecker busily drills in the bark of a tree. The white speckled plumage of a nutcracker disappears into a bristly pine tree, emerging a moment later with a pinecone between his toes.
Hiking further up the alpine trail, I look down and stumble into a world of untouched beauty. A waterfall tumbles over jagged peaks and deep gorges into a sprawling lake beneath. Red deer frolic in a mystical meadow of wild flowers, and a swan splashes about in a crystal clear stream.
My next adventure takes me skipping through a dense forest coated with pine needles and fruit trees. Hungry from my hike, I pluck some ripe juicy berries from the vine and pop them into my mouth. The echoing hoot of a long-eared owl warbles across the forest as I follow another winding path.

Crushing pinecones as I walk, my path takes me to a rural village with a schoolhouse, weather-beaten sheds, and a water mill. The smell of cinnamon cookies and Swiss chocolate drift out of a bakery. A factory worker smiles as he sells a pair of hobnailed shoes to a lady wearing a Bernese hat with a black veil. Handing her the parcel wrapped in brown paper, he smiles warmly and says, “Thank you kindly, miss.” A bell jingles on the door as she leaves.

As the sun breaks through the morning dawn, a farmer wearing a tall black hat stands on a mountain top herding sheep. His cheeks are rosy from the cold, but he yodels as he works. “Yodel-ay-hi-hi. Yodel-ay-hi-hi!” Picking up his alpenhorn, a long, curved wooden horn, he blows into it, signalling to a neighbor across the Alps.

My trip across the Swiss Alps takes its final journey as the train goes through spiral tunnels and looping viaducts. When it comes out, it emerges into a winter wonderland surrounded by glaciers glistening in the snow like diamonds.

A hidden valley makes a picturesque scene as skiers sweep down the steep slopes of the mountains. Giggling kids bobsled in the snow, and a St. Bernard yips around them in playful circles. Frosty the snowman, dressed in a Santa hat and red scarf, waves to me as he stands tall amidst the bristly pine trees, bidding me a cheery farewell as I depart the majestic Swiss Alps. “Ho Ho Ho!”

Did your family put up a train? And if so, do you carry on the tradition with your kids? I'd love to hear your memories. Comments are most welcome!

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!



Sharon Donovan said...

Putting up the train set was a favorite tradition in my house. Every year, we would add to our little village and every year my imagination would take me on another trip through time. I truly believe the stories I strummed up were the roots of my writing career. The train set, with most of the same pieces, is now in the hands of my brother where the tradition carries on each Christmas with his family. I like to think they let their imaginations run wild when they take a trip through time.

Tammy Doherty said...

Beautiful images, Sharon. You had (and have!) quite an imagination.

What I remember of family traditions are the party with "local" family that was usually the beginning of Dec. We always watched Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. My son loves that movie now.

Christmas Eve was spent with my mother's parents & included church service. Christmas Day, after opening gifts at home, we went to my father's parents. The house was always overfull with people. The tree, at least 8 feet tall, was piled with presents - stacked halfway up the tree and about 3 feet out all the way around. Our stockings at Grammy's were about 3 feet tall. And that's not childhood exaggeration :D

With my kids, we decorate the tree together, go to Christmas Eve service, watch all the old (and some new) TV specials. I'm trying to teach them the true meaning of Christmas and that getting every toy they see isn't it. My 13 year old gets it. The 4 1/2 year old is too focused on himself. But he's a joy to watch & he's helping me rediscover the wonders of the season.

Thanks for inviting us into your memories.

Tammy Doherty

P.L. Parker said...

Morning Sharon. Oliver is certainly looking festive. I loved Heidi - every time the movie came on when I was young, I had to watch it. My husband's uncle, Norris Zinn, built this huge train track in his basement. It was so amazing, it ended up in some magazine (can't remember which one), but he spent years putting it together, hand-carved each piece. Good blog. Loved it.

Emma Lai said...

Thanks for sharing your beautiful memories, Sharon!

Hywela Lyn said...

What lovely memories Sharon. Youar train set must have been so magical - we don't have that tradition here in the UK, but my favourite part of putting up the decorations is trimming the tree, I love all the little decorations I've collected through the years, rocking horses, unicorns, little ponies as well as angels, stars, teddies and of course colored balls.

I try to buy a new angel or little horse every year, and three of my favourite angels are Native American dancing angels, they're so pretty.

Thank you so much for sharing your memories with us and for taking us on such a magical journey with your gift for painting beautiful pictures with words.

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Tammy, thank you for your lovely words and for sharing your memories. Aren't family traditions great? We used to go to my grandma's house on Christmas, a little cottage in the country. We used to sing that song "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go". Christmas Eve traditions included breaking wafers and sharing them for good luck, opening one gift and going to Midnight Mass. And how right you are to teach your kids the true meaning of Christmas. That's what it's all about. Family and tradition and the birth of Christ. Have a Merry Christmas!

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Patsy,
Oh I hope that train set is still in the family some where! What a gift, one to cherish and pass on from generation to generation. I love trains and the pure magic of putting a village together was so whimsical. Even though my family is and was big on traditions, putting up the train set each year is the tradition most near and dear to my heart. Thanks for sharing!

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Emma. Thanks for stopping by. I'm so glad you enjoyed the trip through time. Have a Merry Christmas!

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Lyn,
Oh, isn't trimming the tree another beautiful tradition. And like a train set, adding a new ornament each year is so magical. I love angels and rocking horses. I got a few ornaments in Ireland, miniature rocking horses along with old-fashioned Tiffany lamps made of colored glass. They are only the size of a spool of thread. When we were kids, we used to sit in the kitchen and string popcorn while singing Christmas carols. Then we'd run in and hang it on the tree. The old ornaments hold so many nostalgic memories but the new ones are the memories of tomorrow. Thanks for sharing, Lyn.

Mary Ricksen said...

We had one, it just went around under the Christmas tree.
I so agree, the stories of our childhood are the roots of our writing.
Sharon, Imagery is my thing and you do it beautifully!

Judy said...

Our tradition was putting the tree up Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. My mother always wanted a live tree!! She loved decorating and baking for Christmas. During Christmas time I think about her constantly. My family basically have followed that procedure except for the live trees.

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Mary. Thank you for such a lovely compliment. Train set memories are special, huh? I'm so happy they are slowly making a come back. Every child should be so fortunate to take part in this tradition. . The magic of make believe through books and movies and Walt Disney are so much a child's life. But actually taking part in the building of a village is indeed something magical.

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Judy. Your Christmas memories are so special. Christmas is a time for reminiscing and being nostalgic. I remember how great the house smelled with the heady scent of pine and the baking of oven gresh cookies. I'm a big believer of traditions being passed on from generation to generation. And yours are a beautiful way of remembering such happy times with your mother.

Julie Robinson said...

What a beautiful memory for you, Sharon. Just think if you'd been a kid now with that train set tradition, you might be imagining you were going to Hogwarts instead. As it is, Heidi was one of my very favorite stories growing up, so I really enjoyed your trip to the Swiss Alps.

Julie Robinson said...

Although this isn't a Christmas memory, the best train set memory I have is when my son was a toddler. We'd gotten him a train set, and we would spend hours playing together. I can still hear his hopeful little voice "Mama, come play with me!"

Of course, there was one point when he was 3 years old when he was playing with it while I was busy with something else and he unexpectedly asked me when he was going to have a little brother or sister to play with. Broke my heart. Anyways, I digress. The train set was one of the toys I could not give away when he outgrew it. It's still in the closet.

Okay, I'm getting all sappy now.

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Julie,
I'm so glad you still have your son's train set. They are worth so much financially speaking, but the emotional rewards far supercede the face value. It's my firm belief every child should experience the joy of a train set. It builds the biggest and best gift of all...imagination.

Linda Swift said...

I loved reading about your family tradition of putting up the train set for Christmas. I could feel the love and excitement from your vivid description. I never had that experience but I read Heidi more than once and share your love of the story. Thanks for a heart-warming story. Linda

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Sharon,

My Dad had a set of Lionel trains he received for Christmas when he was a kid, back in the thirties. When my brothers and I were kids, he put them up under the Christmas tree every year. As long as he supervised, he'd let us run them. My parents also had a general store and when we got older he put a tree in the bay window of the store and put the trains up underneath. The kids would stand there and stare into the window like the kids do in the beginning of the movie, A Christmas Story. My dad gave lots of kids a taste of an old fashioned Christmas. He has since passed away, but his trains are still set up in the basement of my parents house on a proper table with a tunnel and village he built for them when he retired.

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Linda, thanks for commenting. Yes, there was a lot of love and excitement involved in setting up the train set and these memories are a huge part of my childhood. Wasn't Heidi a great book?

Sharon Donovan said...

Kathy, what fantastic memories. It was an exciting time, huh? I can just imagine the general store window and it sound so magical. Nothing in today's world beats an old fashioned Christmas! I'm so happy the train is still out to be admired.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Claudia, great to meet you. I'm so glad you enjoy reading my blog and look forward to you being a frequent visiter!
All the best,