Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas and Model Trains (3): Trains Under the Christmas Tree

Unlike John Coker and Renee Law, I have never set up
a train underneath the Christmas tree.

As long as I can remember, it's been a tradition for operating model trains to be put under Christmas trees.

That never happened in our house when I was growing up, and I don't do it now. In fact, I have never seen a real operating model train underneath a Christmas tree in someone's home.

And yet, trains and Christmas trees have gone together for a long time. Where did it start?

An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says it may started in Pennsylvania over 300 years ago--long before Lionel, and real trains, for that matter.

According to Jim Morrison, curator of the National Christmas Museum in Paradise, PA, it could date back to the 1700s when Moravian Christians in that state set up elaborate Nativity scenes in their homes called "putzen"--the German word for decoration around the holidays.

In the mid-1800s, he said, people created villages at the base of the tree with items such as model farmhouses fashioned after their own dwellings.

Cast-iron toys emerged toward the late 1800s in the form of homes, carriages and fire stations. When trains came on the scene about that same time, stationary cast-iron models of trains were placed underneath the tree.

When Lionel, Ives and other manufacturers started making model trains in the 20th century, it wasn't much of a leap for some people to start using moving models underneath the tree.

The idea was helped along by department stores, which displayed model trains in holiday settings, including underneath Christmas trees.

True or not, somewhere along the line model trains under the Christmas tree became a tradition for some families. But not mine--at least, not yet.

Anyone have other ideas for how model trains under the Christmas tree became a tradition?

See how John and Renee made their Christmas tree layout here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this series, John. John and Renee's layout is free from carpet snags, something I've experienced with under-tree layouts in the past.

    In a similar vein, please check out my Christmas post on Trackside Treasure, which also deals with model trains and Christmas:

    As I mention in the post, thanks for being a Trackside Treasure blog partner again this year, and a very Merry Christmas to you and your family,