Christmas Heritage Holidays in Appalachia

The Santa Train

Santa train from kingston archives

Since 1943 a train loaded with toys, candy, and Santa has made it way from Kentucky through Virgina and ended it’s journey in Kingsport, Tennessee.

The Santa Special was started as a way to give a bit of Christmas to impoverished children who lived along the route as well as thank folks for shopping in Kingsport. In recent years celebrities have tagged along to help spread Christmas Cheer.

The Santa Train has become a tradition for many families-it’s not unusual for several generations of the same family to take part in the tradition. Since the Santa Train makes it’s run the weekend before Thanksgiving it’s a natural start to the Christmas Season for many.

I’d like to share an essay about the Santa Train, written by David Templeton.

The Santa Train; A Very Special Part of America, Then and Now

Over the many years that Santa has come down through the mountains on the Santa Train, thousands of people, young and old, have been there as Santa waved and wished them a Merry Christmas.  My thoughts tell me first that many were the poor people of Appalachia, come to enjoy just a bit of happiness in a world racked with abject poverty; and, my thoughts go back to us, a poor family with little to enjoy, materially, at Christmastime, save the candy and the toys and prizes that Santa threw us from his train.

There can be no doubt that the founders of the Train had those impoverished children in mind, maybe foremost in their minds.  The founders, however, also saw a broader mission: To be the  harbinger of a spirit that would prevail among all, young and old, poor and affluent, through the month-long season; a spirit of sharing and caring and of peace on Earth, Goodwill to men.

Oh yes, that spirit would foment good sales for merchants along the railroad’s path through villages and towns, as the spirit of Christmas and giving fostered a gleeful purchasing spree all up and down the line.

Yet, we remember, don’t we? Not the commercial side of the moment and not what we gave or received on any of those many Christmas mornings.  When we hear that the train is going to make another run, we remember that as those of us who got to rush out behind the train and gather the bounty in Santa’s wake are blessed with a very special memory of a time most Americans have only read about but never, ever got to enjoy firsthand.

Thank goodness that the special time goes on and the Train still runs and Santa’s helpers still care.


I hope you enjoyed David’s thoughts and memories about the Santa Train.



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  • Reply
    Walter Douglas
    November 20, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Having lived alongside the Clinchfield Railroad in the house right next door to David and his family, I have seen the Train. This tradition started in the early 1940’s and continues now. Today November 18, 2010. is the day of the Santa Train. I will go watch the Santa parade through the streets of the city of Kingsport. This is a great tradition and I hope it never stops.
    Walter L. Douglas
    Kingsport, Tennessee

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 22, 2009 at 11:30 am

    What a beautiful story and well written. I’ve never heard of this train but I sure do like the idea of it.

  • Reply
    My Carolina Kitchen
    December 22, 2009 at 6:51 am

    I’ve never seen the train but what a treat is must be. But I did see it mentioned along with your blog on Chef E’s Cook Appeal. I’m so glad you two have met. I knew you would have a lot in common.
    This train is the true meaning of Christmas. I hope you and your family have a very merry Christmas Tipper and a happy and healthy new year.

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    December 17, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Never personally seen the train, but have seen it many times on TV programs. All those eager smiling young faces waiting to see Santa and receive some candy and gifts from him. It was part of a Christmas tradition that we would be planted right in front of the TV waiting to see the train go through. They haven’t shown if for some years now so I thought they had stopped. Good to know the Santa train is still out there spreading cheer. Thanks Tipper. xxoo

  • Reply
    December 17, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    No, I’ve not heard of the Santa Special. I would love to see it though. Does it still run?
    I can only imagine the childrens faces when they heard that train coming.

  • Reply
    December 17, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    No, I’ve never seen nor heard of the train, but what a wonderful idea. I can just picture the excited children racing after it to get their presents.

  • Reply
    December 17, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Excellent post Tipper. This is such a wonderful tradition in the area.

  • Reply
    December 17, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    That was a beautiful story! I am so glad the Santa train exists!!

  • Reply
    December 17, 2009 at 9:35 am

    thank you for sharing this. I have never seen a train. Thank you for comment on my blog. I came across yours when my mom GMJ e mailed me about your site. she knows how much I love picking the guitar and always wanting to hear the “real” music of Country. 🙂
    thanks so much for sharing these things.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Growing up in Elizabethton, I heard of the train and knew many who went to see it. I think there is a children’s picture book about it. It was definitely a huge part of Christmas for many in East TN and a blessing to many poor families. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    That warmed my heart, Tipper. I’ve hit a rough patch and can’t seem to manage a decent sentence…so thanks for this beautiful story.

  • Reply
    Farm Chick Paula
    December 16, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    They always do a story on our local news about the train, Tipper.. (WBIR in Knoxville) along with showing the Mission of Hope stories- those really break my heart.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    A Santa Train comes here the weekend after Thanksgiving but I don’t know if it’s the one you’re talking about. I do know it’s come every year that I’ve lived here…and that’s a long time! blessings, marlene

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Oh I have to mention this post on my next 12 Days of Christmas post! I am writing about Traditions, and about a soup I had in your area, and psst I have been in Kingsport! My friend lives in Nicklesville…

  • Reply
    Nancy M.
    December 16, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    That is so awesome!

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    December 16, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    I didn’t know this Train existed, Tipper! What a wonderful idea! The perfect metaphor for the spirit of Christmas! And truly enjoyed David Templeton’s essay!
    He’s such an eloquent writer!
    A beautiful post, Tipper! :))

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    What a wonderful tradition. I’d love to see something like that. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    This sounds like a great tradition!

  • Reply
    Nancy Simpson
    December 16, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Tipper, I like the Santa Train post.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    What a wonderful tradition and I loved reading the story! The only thing that happens around here is a toy and coat drive….no train! blessings,Kathleen

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    I’m sure that many have memories of the Santa Train. I would love to see it.
    We went to see the Holiday Train this year. I wonder if it is a spin off of the Santa Train.
    Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas and abundant blessings for the New Year.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    December 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Tipper: I never heard of this and it is a very special thing to share with the children of the mountains. This year it will be even more special with all the economic problems.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    December 16, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I’ve heard of the Santa train but never seen it. Such a nice tradition — but how much nicer if it weren’t needed.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 9:27 am

    That was a very nice train story and I’m glad that is done for the kids.
    Up here the local fire departments decorate engines and deliver food and toys to families have tight times.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Hi Tipper, I’ve never heard of seen this train but love the idea behind it. What a wonderful way to spread Christmas cheer.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Sounds like a lovely tradition. Our town, in recent years, has revived their Christmas parade. This year it was below freezing and heavy snow, but they had it anyway.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2009 at 9:07 am

    What a great tradition. You make it sound so enchanting. Nope no train spotted over in these parts. I wouldn’t mind seeing the one you described though (wink)

  • Reply
    Terry Stites
    December 16, 2009 at 7:27 am

    Good Morning Everyone!
    Here in NE Oklahoma, we have had a Christmas Train go through. It is all decked out with lights and such. Santa did not shower anyone with candy and treats tho. I have seen it twice, when the kids were little.

  • Reply
    barbara gantt
    December 16, 2009 at 7:27 am

    I never saw the train but remember there was a Pastor that would collect gifts . He would go to different churchs in the mountains and give them out. I believe that he was from Hickory or at least had a office there that worked for him. Maybe someone will remember his name. It has slipped my mind. This would have been in the 60’s and early 70’s. I am thinking that he was called the Parson of the Hills. Barbara

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