Needham parish offers ride on ‘The Christmas Express’

NEEDHAM -- It was a train ride that began at the Needham Heights MBTA station and ended at the North Pole. Along the way, the ride allowed scores of families to revel in the Christmas spirit and become immersed in the mood of the season.

“I thought it was great -- a good way to kick off the Christmas week,” said Samantha Rolfes, who rode the train with her family, extended family, and friends. “It’s good to take time out of all the shopping and all the errands and do things like this.”

On Dec. 19, St. Joseph Parish in Needham held its first-ever SJP Christmas Express, a parish fundraiser which offered four train rides during the day from the Needham Heights station. At the station, visitors also had the chance to enjoy live performances, visit with Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, place letters to Santa Claus in a special mailbox, and enjoy a wide variety of Christmas refreshments.

Participants, many of whom were children in their pajamas, boarded the train in Needham.

The ride featured a reading of “The Polar Express,” a children’s story about a young boy who stays awake waiting to hear Santa Claus’s bells. Instead, he hears the sound of a train in front of his house. The boy approaches it and is invited by the conductor to go to the North Pole on the train, which is filled with children wearing pajamas and drinking rich hot chocolate. In the story, the boy is selected by Santa to receive the first Christmas gift.

During the train ride on Dec. 19, children and adults rang bells, and drank hot chocolate and ate cookies. When the train reached the “North Pole” -- in reality the West Roxbury station -- Santa’s elves hurriedly ran through the train heralding his arrival. Once Santa climbed aboard, he greeted the children and some youngsters informed Santa of their Christmas wishes.

On the ride back to Needham, participants sang Christmas carols.

Both adults and youth were in a cheerful Christmas mood after the ride.

“It’s great to get people together and enjoying the season, which is more about giving and being good to each other than the gifts and the presents,” said Peter Burdick, a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish in Needham. “It’s the season of Christmas that makes it more enjoyable.”

Local youth also shared positive memories of the event.

“I like that we got to see Santa,” said Casey Rolfes, a kindergartner at St. Joseph School in Needham. “I like the train. We got to stop at the North Pole.”

Burdick’s son, also named Peter, a kindergartner at St. Joe’s, enjoyed the elves and riding the train.

“It was fast,” he said.

Rick Tacelli, a reader aboard the train, thought the first train ride of the day went well.

“It’s great for the kids. It’s great for the parish,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to pull it off.”

“The kids remember it forever,” he added. “It’s nice when you can do something for everybody.”