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The history behind Christmas trains around your tree

Even if you’ve never had one in the family home, you’ll be familiar with the sight of a Christmas tree with a train running around its base. They’re often to be found in windows, shops that sell Christmas decorations and in festive films. What’s the history behind Christmas trains around your tree?

The first electric toy trains

Historians cannot be certain about the exact date when this tradition began, but it was somewhere in the region of a century ago. Electric toy train manufacturer Lionel started making trains to go around the Christmas tree in the early 20th century, and it was at that time such toys first became popular.

Model railways

As electric trains grew in popularity, so did the size of the train tracks that children built to run them around. They became a much-requested item from Father Christmas, and after opening their gift on the big day, a natural progression was to start assembling the track beneath the Christmas tree.

Driving home for Christmas

As families began to spread out all over the country, and indeed the world, many people would take long journeys to be with their loved ones at Christmas. Sometimes, these involved a car journey, but train trips were also popular. Thus, the toy train and its track became associated with these journeys, as well as the transportation of toys and other festive goods from their place of manufacture to the nation’s shops. Trains also carried Royal Mail packages to faraway family members to be delivered in time for Christmas.

The rise of technology

The Christmas tradition for a train track around the tree has been placed under threat in recent decades, largely due to the increase of technology and associated gifts such as tablets, gaming consoles and smartphones. Toy trains have begun to appear more often again in recent years, however, and are an increasingly common sight in homes and shops all over the planet.

Toys for grown-ups

Adults, in recent years, have become more interested in what were once considered children’s toys. Building kits like Lego are huge sellers, especially during the festive period, and grown men all over the nation are proud to show off that train set they’ve built in their loft, garden or even around the base of the Christmas tree.

Trains in literature

Some children’s books have heavily featured trains in recent times, increasing their popularity. Thomas the Tank Engine is well-known and much loved among younger kids, while older ones, and often their parents, are more into Harry Potter. The Hogwarts Express is a big feature of the series, and model versions, including Lego, are accordingly very popular.

Trains on film

The Polar Express has become a perennial favourite Christmas film, and of course, its biggest star is also a train.

The resurgence of the Christmas train

While experts cannot be certain as to what exactly has caused toy trains to become so popular again, these ideas certainly indicate that the Christmas train tradition is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

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