Some traditions have staying power and one of those is the community Christmas train garden in Maryland. Many a Maryland resident cherishes those childhood memories of visiting a nearby firehouse or other venue to watch miniature trains chug through model villages. Thankfully, those elaborate train layouts are still enchanting youngsters to this day in the Baltimore area.
It's no accident the train layouts are often the work of fire companies, which have become the inheritors of a Christmas custom that dates back more than a century. Moravian (Czech) settlers in Maryland and Pennsylvania brought over their custom of setting up tiny nativity scenes for the holidays. Soon, these creches were moved under the Christmas tree.
Eventually, secular elements like wooden trains — later, a motorized railroad — were added and the religious context faded. Layouts grew more elaborate as buildings, landscaping and fingernail-sized people were arranged in a lifelike tableau.
Firefighters came up with the idea of building train gardens and inviting the neighbors into the firehouse to see as a way of strengthening ties to the communty. The longevity of the tradition is testimony to the dedication of those who build the displays and the communty's enduring affection for this annual display.
For example, a train garden annually draws families to the Ellicott City Fire Department.
Community train gardens require a level of commitment, especially the labor and expertise required to build the layout and keep the trains running smoothly. Those who accomplish this year in and year out deserve our thanks.
Community train gardens are part of our heritage as Marylanders. Pay a visit and give the kids a chance to marvel. One day, they may take their own children to marvel. This all started long before us. Let us hope it continues long after.