Hot cocoa, a vintage Ferris wheel, busy elves wrapping gifts, wafts of steam rising above a 100-year-old locomotive, boiled peanuts, fresh made cotton candy, a magic show and millions of lights.
If ever there was a time to escape and embrace Christmas activities, this is it.
Since 2013, the annual Christmas Train event at Kirby Family Farm in Williston serves as a “family fun fundraising event” that supports the mission of the Kirby Farm which is to develop outreach programs for at-risk and special needs children.
According to the Kirby Family Farm website, the organization, “Offers educational, historical, recreational, agricultural, and community enrichment programs through a hands-on historical museum and agricultural experiences. The programs use railroading, history, and agriculture to teach as much about life in their respective fields.
“We use the historic artifacts from our museum collection to teach about history and significant times. Our mission is to educate and assist children to get back on track, or stay on track in life through teaching, encouragement, and most of all, love.”
This mantra is apparent as you arrive at the farm just a mile south of Downtown Williston.
Friendly staff and volunteers welcome you first in the parking lot and then at the gate where you present or purchase your tickets.
On opening night (Nov. 27th ) of the Christmas Train which runs through Dec. 27th on weekends and nightly during the week of Dec. 17th to Dec. 23rd starting at 6 p.m., about 100 visitors waited at the railroad crossing to enter.
Once the signal was given, adults and kids descended upon the field, some heading straight to the train and others racing to see Santa and the elves. Some families came dressed in matching flannel pajamas and took a family photos in front of the lighted locomotive. One couple visiting from Palm Coast got engaged right in front of the decked-out engine.
Every 30 minutes, folks climbed aboard the train in open cars and rolled out of the station to travel through a series of lighted Christmas displays from the manger scene in Bethlehem to rocked-out lights and music choreographed finale that started with Dueling Banjos and ended with a modern pop rendition of Jingle Bells.
Throughout the evening, you could hear the traditional Christmas tunes such as Let It Snow, White Christmas by Bing Crosby and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
The train takes guests past the Barnum and Bailey Circus train that has ring master cars as big as a one-room apartment.
“What’s inside the lighted Christmas gift boxes?” the train announcer asks kids to guess.
And then a series of punny “Dad” holiday jokes ensues.
“Elsie the fire breathing dragon lights the yule log,” the announcer proclaims as you pass the 75-foot-long creature.
A lighted igloo with penguins, a steam boat, reindeer, the three wise men and then a trip through what feels like an enchanted forest with twinkling lights in purple and green.
A stop at the manger for a profound moment of reflection and Hark the Herald Angels takes over to a quiet crowd onboard.
And then comes the finale. Lights go off on the train. Guests are encourage to sing and dance along to the music. The Dueling Banjos instrumental gives way to a modern Joy to the World and the light show roars in with lights in every direction choreographed to the music.
Then you return back to the station just in time for Magician Greg Solomon of Ocala to wow you with his tricks and illusions and corny jokes and pranks.
Jingle Bell Rock is blasting over the PA system.
Santa says the corn dogs served on the farm are, “The best I’ve ever had.
“We’re excited about the turnout,” Santa said. “I’m looking forward to meeting all the kids and making sure they stay on the nice list.”
Santa adds that he and his elves are meeting with families out at the house next to the row of concessions that include boiled peanuts, Miss Molly’s kettle corn and sweets and snacks.
“In the house we’re trying to be proactive,” Santa said. “With social distancing.”
That’s where you meet elves like Ruby “Jingles” Thomas who literally jingles the bells around her neck.
And those barnyard babies are expecting you to visit and fuss over them.
There’s Pumpkin the 6-month-old wallaby, Lavy (as in lavender) the sweet smelling skunk, bunnies, a baby opossum, hedgehogs and a rare albino raccoon who will reach out with his long fingers to say hello or receive treats that you purchase to feed him.
More lights are coming from the 1950s Ferris wheel and the 100-year-old elegant carousel imported from Italy.
And every half hour you will hear the engine toot toot as it departs the station for another lights tour.
Remember that gates open at 6 p.m. sharp and guests with Advance Registration get first entry. The first train ride is scheduled to leave at 6:30 p.m. and runs approximately every half hour. The last ride is at 9:30 p.m. and the gates close promptly at 10 p.m. each evening.
The Kirby Family asks for a $15.99 contribution per person in advance, ages 10 and up, $20 at the gate if available. Children ages 3 to 9 are $10.99 in advance and $15 at the gate if available. Children 2 and under are FREE, no contribution is requested. Children 2 and under may be required to sit on their parent or guardians lap aboard the train.
For more information on the event or to purchase tickets, click here.