With the lightly-fallen snow, the “All Aboard” call of the conductor and the happy faces of children -clad in pajamas and looking out steamy train windows – a storybook tale was coming to life.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s annual “Polar Express” ride, based on the 1985 Caldecott Award winning picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, has been a must-do holiday event for families of northeast Ohio for more than 20 years.
Typically, the event is so popular the tickets sell out but the CVSR made 2 train cars available for Akron Children’s patients and their families on a recent morning.
The parents and children had the opportunity to step into the pages of the book and take a magical train ride just like the story’s young boy takes on Christmas Eve.
Many elements of the book were spot on such as the “hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.” But there were a few modern twists, such as Elf Chrissy inviting her passengers to take as many “elfies” with her as they liked.
Elf Chrissy read the “Polar Express,” which was followed by the serving of hot cocoa and a chocolate chip cookie baked by Mrs. Claus herself. Everyone sang Christmas songs together until the train slowed toward its destination – the North Pole.
“Get out your squeegees, we are so close,” said Chrissy. “I see elf houses!”
And then the North Pole – with its giant Christmas tree, twinkling lights and dozens of waving elves, reindeer and snowmen – appeared.
“I see Rudolph,” said a very excited 6-year-old, Ella.
The biggest cheers, of course, came with the arrival of Santa Claus. Santa slowly moved through each of the train cars, taking time to sit with each child and listen to their Christmas wishes.
Stephania, 5, requested an Easy Bake Oven, while Lily and Molly, both 4, told Santa they were dreaming of “Frozen stuff,” which Santa, from experience, surely knew to mean dolls and anything else related to the wildly popular Disney movie.
Every child received a special gift from Santa – a silver bell. In the book, the silver bell is a souvenir from the North Pole that gets lost through a hole in the boy’s pajama pockets. But the boy finds the bell returned to him, in a small package, under his Christmas tree with a personal note from Santa.
While his parents and others could no longer hear the beautiful sound of the silver bell, the boy does – even in adulthood – as the sound of the bell is synonymous with holding the spirit of Christmas in your heart.
As they departed the train, Elf Chrissy made sure her young charges would carry the spirit of Christmas with them and have their silver bells to treasure for years to come.
“Check your pockets everyone,” she said. “Hopefully, no bell will get lost through a hole. Give a warm hug to the people who brought you here today … and Merry Christmas, everyone!”