Angel the elf is waiting by the railroad track at Kirby Family Farm greeting visitors as they arrive for an evening of Christmas joy.
“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” a favorite holiday song recorded in 1958 by Brenda Lee, is playing on the train engine as passengers make their way to a seat on the open cars adorned with lights.
Head conductor Tracy Kirby is ready to guide everyone on an adventure through the woods.
“If you’re excited to be onboard, let me hear you make some noise,” Kirby says to a roar of “yay” and “woohoo” from passengers.
Then she says everyone is transformed into a kid whey they ride on the Christmas train. She asks all the kids to raise their hands, and everyone does.
“Dashing through the snow,” she starts to sing over the speaker, as other passengers join in. Toot, toot, goes the train as it rolls forward toward a light show in the woods.
Passing by Elf Angel, kids notice she is holding a tiny elf friend and they are excited to see an Elf on the Shelf has shown up for a night of fun.
The train meanders through the woods passing by lighted holiday displays on one side and retired Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus sleeper cars on the other.
The music playing is a mix of classic holiday pop songs and hymns. When the train heads out of the forest it comes to a complete stop for a big, cheerful show.
Kirby reminds passengers that volunteers make the experience happen. It’s been 10 years since Tracy and her husband Daryl purchased the 110 acres in Williston with a dream of starting the farm and adding trains to offer “educational, historical, recreational, agricultural, and community enrichment programs through a hands-on historical museum and agricultural experiences.”
The Christmas train draws families from near and far each year. It all started with a train ride and a hot cocoa stand, Tracy tells the passengers.
“Each year we grow and add more to our Christmas train experience so it can be a family tradition,” Tracy says.
Visits with Santa, a dance party, manger petting area, an antique ferris wheel and Italian carousel, secret elf shop, magic show, and a wagon ride story and singing trip are now all part of the event.
Mr. and Mrs. Claus are happy to see the Tuminski family from Lecanto.
“I’m very proud of both of you for being very good girls,” Santa tells Annie, 7, and her sister Daisy, 5. They tell Santa what they want for Christmas and then give high fives. Mom Danielle and dad Jason join them for a family photo taken by Tinsel the Elf.
Organizers say they expect the crowds to get bigger as Christmas approaches and they are selling most tickets online.
Tickets at the gate are $20 for ages 10 and up, $15 for children ages 3 to 9. For those on a tight budget, the farm offers volunteer opportunities in exchange for an all-inclusive pass.
Gates open at 6 p.m. with train rides from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The train will operate Friday through Sunday starting next weekend, with additional daily rides during Christmas week of Dec. 20-26.