noticements Podcast
RIP to the Christmas Trains, Hello to the New Year

RIP to the Christmas Trains, Hello to the New Year

A little holiday reading

It feels lucky, this New Year’s Day being a Sunday in my scheduled Sunday of noticements. I get to say hello today, on a day when you’re maybe more open to the world, maybe feeling hopeful about your life if not life in general. Or maybe you’re hungover and grumpy as hell, but that’s okay too, because beneath that you still have that feeling: tomorrow will be better, as will the day after that. Right? 

Why today? Because the world decided it must be today. This is a ritual we’ve collectively created. It used to be different. I mean centuries ago. Once, in ancient Rome, the new year turned on the spring equinox in March. Or so I’ve gathered from my daily ritual of Googling. Then they changed it to January, a month named after Janus, the god of thresholds, of transitions, of beginnings and endings. He has two faces: one looking forward, one looking back. 

I love rituals. I have rituals for the morning, for the week, for the month. I once had a ritual of Christmas Day bike rides to Great Falls. I went four years in a row. Then my bike got stolen. So instead Seth and I have created a Christmas ritual. Drinking hot chocolate in the Ritz-Carlton lobby. And exploring the empty city. We have no Christmas tree, just a pitifully small Chanukah tree of bent blue aluminum, scattering sunlight into little blue pieces. It used to have lights, but these lights have broken. The tree is not enough. Instead we go see the big Christmas tree at the White House. It is large and surrounded by toy trains. These trains are a tribute to a vision of America: Truck stops, farmhouses, amish homes, churches. And they often have empty freight boxes into which people toss coins; there are coins and coins, missed throws, laying on the ground, funding future trains, we’d thought. 

But this is not a happy story. This year the trains were gone. 

Actually, they were gone last year, too, but we’d forgotten, or hoped it was a fluke, maybe. But this year cemented the problem: No more trains. Forever.

Our ritual, wrenched away, but why? 

So this is not a story about noticing, because there were no trains to notice: this is a story about noticing a lack.

We searched online for the answer and came up with nothing—until we found a single article from the Train Collectors Association blog. It is a beautiful read in its entirety, written by someone literally named Clem Clement. It includes such gems as, “Were it that we could have done more?” It gives no answer to the death of the Christmas train, but does allude to something here: “The grey hair and perms of the workers were becoming thinner.” 

So I thought I’d pass the mic, as they say, to Clem, by, uh, reading his blog post aloud (which I recorded with a microphone…).

At the top of this post you can listen to a very unprofessional reading. It’s only nine minutes. If you feel like it, put it on while you’re going on a walk, making your bed, or just lazing around.

Or you can read it with your eyes at this link. Read it out loud, read it to a friend. Trust me on this.

Here are some highlights:

Time moves on

All good things must end

Happiness is/was!

Why now?

And my favorite passage: 

“In my life, #1 Priority was showing up. Next it was defeating the health problems I had as a baby.

Or maybe it’s this one, shunted to a PS:

“I forgot to mention the night the White House was attacked. The President’s Park power was cut off instantly, and everything went dark. Sandy’s nephew’s wife and their late dog Duke were outside the park while he did some business.”

Read this for Clem. Happy New Year. Happiness is/was.


I’ll be honest, this newsletter has no idea what it is (other than a ritual between myself and myself), but I hope you’ve enjoyed these little ramblings in 2022 about things I’ve noticed. Maybe they will find some direction in 2023. Maybe not. Is there anything you enjoy in particular? I’d love to know.

By the way, Seth and I found Christmas trains two days later on a jog; the Botanic Gardens were open, and their holiday train set was incredible. BIG RECOMMEND:

PS: Chanukah Cat discovers fire, a story in 3 parts:

See the flame
Smell the flame
Boop the flame

noticements Podcast
Welcome to noticements, where I write about moments worth noticing.
Listen on
Substack App
RSS Feed
Appears in episode
Denise S. Robbins