This year, I rode the NorthStar train to St. Paul to go shopping and do crafts with my toddler. I was worried that the kids might not be able to survive the long ride, but they did. There were Christmas lights strung on the windows of the train carts, and conductors seemed to enjoy the festive ride.
“We are expecting about 1,000 people,” said Conductor Jim when I asked if he liked being on a train where it wasn’t just the normal commute to work for people in Minneapolis every morning (which is usually what people take the Northstar Commuter Rail for).
Another conductor, Vincent, even brought along his keyboard to sing Christmas songs with the crowd, and he passed out paper conductor hats for the kids to wear.
Police were at the Big Lake station and rode the train with their dog, Myrill (not sure if that’s how you spell it) to ensure everything remained in order and people were kept safe on this festive journey to Union Depot–a historic railroad station in St. Paul.
My older son got a bit restless after he grew tired of watching Netflix on my phone, partly because my earphones didn’t fit his small ears, so he started to wander around the stroller and bother the baby. I debated stopping at the Fridley stop because the baby didn’t have extra formula for the rest of the night (he had just finished a bottle and the conductors convinced me last minute to ride the train; I was only intending to interview them and take a few pictures of the crowd). However, a couple hundred of people later, some kids sat next to us and my son talked to them for a bit and made it through the last stretch of the ride.
Once we arrived, there were carolers greeting the visitors and a few staff persons handing out a map to direct us where to go. It showed where the specific vendors were located, the coloring table, photo areas, games and more.
There were people selling jewelry and clothes and treats.
I bought my son some cookies that were homemade and incredibly delicious but definitely not worth $1 each, considering there were just plain sugar cookies contained in an ordinary Ziploc bag. Anyway, I never got the chance to eat because the lines for pizza, Greek, or hotdogs were quite lengthy. So lengthy in fact that there was a magician entertaining the people at one point. Nice outfit, sir!
There was also a Santa taking pictures with the kids.
My son tried the reindeer crafts (candy canes and sparkly pipe cleaners with eyeball stickers) and the coloring table (tons of sheets of Christmas-themed photos), but his favorite were the floor games.
Jenga and checkers were set up for the kids, but my son doesn’t understand how to play either of these so he gathered around the other children his age “playing” the giant Connect Four. It was really cute to see him laughing and collecting the pieces.
I finally found a vending machine where I was able to buy myself some Doritos for lunch, and get some gummy worms and pretzels for my son. Yes, I know, poor food choices but I wasn’t planning on actually riding the train to St. Paul on the Northstar Commuter Rail, Metro Transit. There was a tall tree standing in one of the open areas, and people were taking pictures with family and significant others. It looked very spectacular next to the old columns of Union Depot.
There were Disney’s Frozen characters posing with kids in a corner, but my son doesn’t like that movie and doesn’t know the characters. Thank God. So I snapped a picture and then moved along to find milk for the baby.
Luckily there was a cafe open where I was able to find some milk. It wasn’t formula, but on Google it said if I mixed it with some water and sugar, it would be easier for the baby to digest, so that’s what I did on the train–much to the disgust/surprise of a woman sitting across from me as I mixed the bottle. But that’s her problem.
The ride back home was definitely a little more trying for the kids. I took the baby out of his carrier seat in the stroller so he could see the people around us, but he wouldn’t sit still and kept trying to jump off me and dropping his toys. Meanwhile, my toddler was laying on the floor inspecting the wheels on our stroller and the one next to us, and on the walker of the older man sitting next to me. Eventually the mom who appeared to be judgmental started a conversation with my son and played Simon Says with her boy and mine and we talked a bit about pre-school classes for next year. She seemed to be a woman of great faith by the way she talked to the strangers around her and it inspired me.
Eventually her and her family reached their stop. Ours was still about half an hour away but the train was about 45 minutes ahead of schedule, so we were at the station in Big Lake by 8:55 pm. It was an overall great experience because we got to leave the house and do something different. I originally thought all of the activities would be outdoors but once the conductors mentioned it would be indoors, I was happy to try it out with my kids. The people on the train helped me get the stroller off the train and were very kind, so I’m grateful for that.
I am not sure if I would do it again next year since my son gets bored easily, but maybe if I didn’t have to go alone, I’d do it! I recommend it to families looking for something outside the box to do over the holidays. Just remember that Christmas is about acknowledging the biggest gift we have ever received–God’s son, Jesus. And by loving others the way He loved us, we are spreading more than just cheer but also goodwill, faith, and inspiration.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you keep Christmas in your hearts the entire year.