The holiday season has officially begun, evidenced by Black Friday's door-busting hysteria.
This seasonal segue always happens quickly. No sooner do autumn leaves fall when the glittering lights of Christmas blossom. Soon, neighborhoods and towns will be aglow in holiday spirit.
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For as magical as this transformation is, we're four weeks behind Cori Buis, who's been busily preparing Blackberry Farm with dazzling displays of holiday cheer. On Saturday, Dec. 4, it all comes to life for the first time when the Polar Express train begins to make its rounds as it will for three December weekends (Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19) leading up to Christmas.
Buis has been at this since Halloween, swapping pumpkin decorations for Yuletide lights "lots and lots and lots of lights," she says, having lost count.
"They run from the park entrance all the way to the train depot. It's an amazing sight when they're all lit up."
It is truly an awe-inspiring sight as thousands of tiny, glittering lights coalesce to create the sparkling views that turn Blackberry Farm into a winter wonderland.
The Polar Express train is awash in Christmas lights as well, each rail car adorned with a swash of bright holiday spirit as passengers ride to the virtual North Pole. Like old times, their ticket is punched as they board the train, and off they go into another world.
The magical journey around the periphery of Lake Gregory will feel like a trip to a faraway land, as Christmas music reverberates throughout the park, serenading passengers with holiday melodies.
In a heartwarming parallel to the little boy in the famous book and film, children will hear the screeching metal wheels of the train ... and then they'll actually witness Santa in person on his sleigh in the blacksmith shop at the Early Streets Museum.
"It's always a surreal experience for the kids. To see the expressions on their faces is just priceless ... wide-eyed and awe-struck," said Buis. "And they always ask 'Is that really Santa's sleigh?'"
The Blackberry Farm gift shop will be open as well, with hundreds of the popular Christmas ornaments and unique holiday decorations on sale.
Per tradition, the old favorites remain, including the storyteller in the one-room schoolhouse who will regale guests with readings from "The Polar Express." A toy train display made entirely from Legos will be displayed. Also, hot chocolate and cookies are available for purchase in the Huntoon House.
As they say, Christmas is for children, but remember all of us adults were children once upon a time, too, and we like to relive old times.
"The best part of Polar Express is simply seeing how much people enjoy it kids and adults alike," said Buis.
You will believe in Santa after a ride on the Polar Express train. The timeless charm this classic story exudes is based on the power of belief something that resonates across generations and cultures. The show of lights and holiday spirit is positively enlightening.
Catch the Polar Express train at Blackberry Farm from 3 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19. Admission is $4 per person. For information, call (630) 892-1550.