By Naomi Judd
To me, the magic of Christmas is all about bringing families together, giving gifts and giving back. I'm so fortunate this year to ride the 68th annual CSX Santa Train, because I'll be able to experience each of those traditions in one joyful day.
My daughter Wynonna and her son, Elijah, will join me on Nov. 20 to help Santa Claus deliver more than 15 tons of toys to children along the train's 110-mile route through Tennessee, Virginia and my home state of Kentucky.
When I rode the Santa Train five years ago, I decided the moment it ended that I wanted to participate again. Wynonna had a similar experience last year; she called me on the way back from the train, and I could tell she'd been crying, overcome by the same tenderness and compassion I had felt years before. This year's Santa Train should be even more memorable, because sharing any experience with a loved one, someone who really knows you, is much more meaningful and enjoyable than going it alone.
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Three generations of our family will be together on this year's Santa Train, and that's the way I always wanted things to be. I believe strongly in tradition and rituals and ceremonies, because they connect people, and they help us to learn and remember specific times that influenced our beliefs and values.
The Christmas season has always provided me with some of the most vivid memories of my life in Appalachia. For instance, nature is such an important part of daily satisfaction there, and that's no different at Christmas. Every winter, we used to cut down a tree ourselves and bring it home on a horse-drawn cart.
And I will never forget the most meaningful Christmas gift Wynonna ever gave me. She was 12 years old, and at the time, we were living on top of a mountain in rural Kentucky, without even a telephone in our house. Our friends were the salt-of-the-earth types who tried to make most things themselves, which certainly fits in with the green movement of today. They helped Wynonna shear a sheep, put the wool in a handmade loom and weave a large bag that I could use to carry my nursing school books.
This memory came rushing back to me on the Santa Train in 2005, right when we emerged from total wilderness, before the first stop. Our song Beautiful Star of Bethlehem was playing, which was one of the first songs we learned when Wynonna was just starting to play the guitar.
That song was taught to us by another mother and daughter, Minnie Yancey and Sonja Bird. Minnie had also built the loom Wynonna used to make my wool bag. As I prepared to hand out toys to eager children, I was reminded of the lasting impact a meaningful gift can have.
To the children along the Santa Train's route, every gift is meaningful. Wynonna and I grew up in the Appalachian region, so we understand the difficulties many of these children face every day.
I am blessed to be able to ride the Santa Train with Wynonna. Giving back to an area that has shaped our lives will allow us to bond emotionally, and it will be a special send-off before our final tour. When we finally return to our farms after the tour, we'll be completely exhausted. The Santa Train will be our real Christmas.
Naomi Judd is a Kentucky native and Grammy award-winner. The Santa Train will make its 68th run on Saturday, Nov. 20. The event is sponsored by CSX, Food City, Kids Wish Network and the Kingsport (Tenn.) Area Chamber of Commerce.