Tracking Christmas

“Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted.
Can’t help but wonder what’s happening to my companions.
Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down?
All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon ?
There’s slow, slow train coming up around the bend.”
(1979) “Slow Train” Recorded and Composed By: Bob Dylan

Since 1965, Northpark Center, (Northpark Mall) in Dallas, Texas, has been the zenith of the shopping experience. It’s located near the very posh, highbrow part of Dallas called, University Park, and Highland Park. Frankly, much of the the clientele frequenting the polished floors of Northpark Center tend to be decked out in Armani and Versace. Yet, there are many shoppers there dressed in casual jeans or khakis. After all, it’s a shopping haven for the students at nearby SMU. I know Northpark well as I once worked there for Florsheim and Wolfe Brother’s Clothing Department Store not long after high school. I met, and waited on, many celebrities while working in sales in that day, like Rita Moreno, Jimmy Dean, Tony Dorsett, Linda Gray, D.D. Lewis, local TV news anchors, and B.J. Thomas to name a few. You never know just who stroll the walkways of Northpark Center. As a side note, Rita Moreno was my favorite celebrity I had the honor of waiting on. She walked in alone, dressed in Capri pants with a pullover shirt, topped with a lite sweater tied around her shoulders, and enclosed flats on her feet. We spent about 20 minutes together as I placed the latest fashion in shoes on her dancing feet. She was very unassuming, humble, and very kind. Those were fun times for me.

On your way to Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, or Abercrombie & Fitch, you might like to stop at the many artsy fountains and pools, art exhibits, or at this time of year, the singing Santa.


Northpark is not on my beaten path, so I don’t visit there very often. However, I did take my daughters there a few times when they were young just for the experience. During the holidays, it’s great to take the kids to see all that glitters inside the mall, complete with strolling carolers, giant Christmas trees, Gingerbread Christmas Town, or The Trains at Northpark. A terrific place for the best of Christmasing pleasure.


Season after season, sprawling out on the 2nd floor, just outside Neiman Marcus, the enchanted seasonal feature, The Trains at Northpark is a must see. A better title might be, Tracks Through Christmas Town is on display there, featuring miniature toy trains.


This display is so popular, one must purchase reserved tickets to get in for the wow factor adding to the holiday experience. (Proceeds go to The Ronald McDonald House.) It is the most elaborate miniature toy train exhibit in Texas.

It features over 600 trains rolling the tracks on a journey across the American landscape. Honestly, you walk in realizing how easily it is to be stunned by the size and detail of such a sight. Expect the tracks to run through mountains, city tunnels, bridges, around lakes and cutting through forests. There’s nothing like the aroma of fresh electric train oil wafting through the air, mixed with a touch of cinnamon and spices among the garlands and pinecones. Along the 1300 feet of miniature tracks, (yes, 1300 feet), are the the sights of small town Americana in full Christmas bloom with its miniature streets, buildings, cars, horse-drawn carriages, and people. Some of the figurines are dragging their freshly cut Christmas trees home through the snow. Others are wrapped up in their winter coats and hats as they carry shopping bags in front of display windows of the miniature shops. Someone is seen walking their dog on a leash in a snowy park. One of my favorites is a scene where families are gathered in a town square, decorating the community Christmas tree with lights and tinsel. If you look closely, you can spot patrons sitting at tables just inside the snowflake dusted windows of a small café with hot cider in their cups. It simply is marvelous to go in and get lost in a picturesque middle America. Just a perfect vision of joy and life in anticipation of the most celebrated holiday in the western world. Well, almost perfect.

Photo: The Trains at Northpark, where eveyone becomes a child.

It’s funny how such an exhibit of this nature attracts the eyes, ears, and nose. After a few minutes you realize you have focused so much on the intricate art details of this miniature Christmas world that you forget the demographics around you doing the very same thing. Suddenly, the wealthy elegant Highland Park woman next to you isn’t noticing she is in the company of someone in a Texas Ranger’s jersey, sweatpants with tennis shoes from Walmart. (That was me.) Suddenly, I haven’t noticed the man in front of me who looks like a high profile upscale attorney, clothed in a Bill Blass suit and tie. Commonality does its magic, doesn’t it? However, one man stuck out at me the last time I was there so many years ago.

Gazing at the miniature exhibit of small town America, with electric trains running alongside the depots, was someone who didn’t fit the average Northpark visitor. This individual stuck out as someone who didn’t belong in such an exclusive location. He was a bit disheveled, maybe in his 60’s, in need of a shave, wearing a worn thin denim shirt and ragged jeans with the knees blown-out. His face was weathered like a man who was acquainted with the outdoors, and a rather faded cloth baseball cap, in need of washing, pushed back away from his wrinkled forehead. To be blunt, he looked as if he might have been a homeless man who wondered in from the street. He seemed fixated on a certain scene in the Christmas train display. Awkwardly, with a grin on his face, leaning over a bit, with his hands on his knees to brace himself, he was seemingly in awe. As other visitors at the exhibit continued to walk around him, he stayed put with a sense of fascination radiating from his body language.

As he caught my attention, I began to visually search for the item that seemed to intrigue him so much. As I got closer to him, I could see where he was focusing his eyes. It was a well-dressed family of four, complete with a little boy and girl, their mom, and a dad with a Christmas wreath hanging from the crook of his elbow. They were standing beside the tracks, just on the backside of the depot, watching for the incoming train. The little boy had a paper bag full of roasted chestnuts. The little girl had a doll in her arms and a cup of hot chocolate in her hand. Mom had four tickets in her gloved hand. Frozen in time, waiting for a train which very well might have transported them to another small town where their grandparents resided. Just like the rest of the town around them, everything looked happy, joyful, lit up, and…well, perfect.

I had my daughters with me, and wasn’t feeling really secure about meeting the man, not knowing his condition. I have always been very protective over my girls, maybe too much at times. Thoughts of drunken speech coming from him, or profanity, or who knows what echoed in my head. He didn’t look like he was in the right place, and I can only imagine where he went after he left Northpark. Life experience has taught me to be aware of your surroundings, even when you believe you are in a safe place. Nonetheless, I avoided communication. We, as did everyone else, walked around the man. My girls never noticed him. Part of me felt like a snooty snob, just the kind I often laughed at while observing Northpark’s finest clientele parading along in their latest outfits from Lord & Taylor. There was some shame I felt, especially after we left the mall that day. Whether right, or wrong, I did what I thought best for my children at the moment. Still, I wanted to speak with the mysterious man.

The odd man had a story, an untold story I would never know. The tale of his life may not have been encouraging to hear, or for him to speak. From what I could see from his outward appearance, poverty was familiar. Yet, whatever struck him, as he was fixed on the miniature scenes from the display, he saw something of value, something of note, somehow, someway.

When I think back to that moment of learning, I wondered if it was the difference he was attached to while accessing the scenes of small-town Christmas. Difference, as in what was projected in the exhibit, and the reality of his existence on the streets of the real world. What he seemed to enjoy, leaning over the miniature Christmas scenes with toy trains clicking down their tracks, was a true picture of…perfection. The world the art exhibitors created lacked carjackers, homeless people, shoplifters, the lonely, the rioting in the streets, property damage, violet outbursts, and road rage. Lacking were the sour joy-suckers carrying signs spewing profanity concerning Christmas revelers, and how racist Christmas is…somehow. The citizens represented in the miniature towns were employed, well-dressed, and very happy. Festivities were in the air, and seemingly common in each little town. Absent was the one or two nativity scene protesters in the town square.

Could it be, just maybe, that in his visit there, he experienced something joyful from his past? Maybe, before a devastating layoff, he had been a happy railroad conductor punching holes in the tickets of his passengers. Possibly there was a recognizable scene involving his childhood days before an angry world had its way with him? Could it be so, that just for a few minutes, he was able to escape the harshness of his life as he entered a make-believe world where all was well, all was festive, all was promising?

Photo by Brett Sayles on

If I had been alone, I would like to think I would’ve spoken with him, maybe even invite him to Northpark’s Churchill’s Pub for gourmet coffee. In my heart, I would imagine he would tell me his story, and somehow I would find a way within his telling where I could mention how the world was broken on that first Christmas Day. Suppose my response to his reveal spotlighted the fact that Bethlehem was not pristine, joyful, and festive, without trouble and care. Reality details how it was a dusty, madhouse of a tiny village of shepherds, homelessness, and scores of the family of the line of King David who had been forced to be there to be counted for a trying census. There was political decent, detachment and debate. No doubt, there were those spewing curses about Rome, Herod, taxes, and tax collectors. There were trampling filthy sheep all over the place. It was a stinky little village to visit. Violence and robbery were common in the surrounding areas. It was not what you see on the average Christmas card.

In my imagination, I can see where he might have been a bit surprised to hear the truth about the first day Jesus had to endure. Because what the man saw in the Northpark exhibit was scenery of a Bedford Falls existence all the way down the tracks. Perfection came to our imperfect world where the ripple effect continues to this very day, even when life can take you down the wrong track.

But what’s the harm, as he soaked-in the image of miniature figurines without cares, loving their perfect surroundings in their tiny unflawed towns by the tracks? Maybe, just for a few minutes, he felt safe and warm, somehow joining the lives and loves of those joyful plastic citizens.

It is my hope that I would have told him that the baby in Bethlehem’s manger would be trained as a carpenter, one who had the talent to build things, maybe even playthings like, miniature buildings, horses, and people. Christ’s true nature is to perform demolition on the stoney heart, rebuilding a heart that is pliable, a heart that He can call completely His. No need to fantasize over a fake Christmas town where you will never fit in.

A slow train is coming to a depot near you, indeed. It’s showcased in fuel for the race.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” – Jesus – Matthew 5:14-15 (NIV)


14 Replies to “Tracking Christmas”

  1. Alan, as I was reading this, I was thinking the same thing – that the man might have been remembering his childhood and the magic of Christmas.
    You’re right, Bethlehem was probably far from that “O Little Town” of the songs. I remember one movie about the life of Christ that showed Joseph walking and Mary on the donkey, holding her Baby, traveling roads that were lined with crosses, a constant reminder of the Roman occupation and foreshadowing of the Baby’s future..
    P. S. Maybe I’m not careful enough, but I have talked with the homeless and given them a McDonald’s gift card or protein bar when I was with my children, and now with my grandchildren. One of my granddaughters tells me if she sees someone with a sign by the side of the road and always asks if I’m going to stop. She seems happy when I do.
    (I also have pepper spray on my keyring. 😏)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Beautiful reflection for Christmas. Thank you for sharing these wonderful photographs. The world is far from perfect, but the love of Christ shines in the dark places. In His heart, there is room enough for everyone… Wishing you blessings at Christmastime!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That was just beautiful, Alan! I do think he might have been so attracted to that family because it reminded him of his past, or maybe just the life he wished he had. I also think if you had spoken to him you would have told him about the gift of perfection that came to such an imperfect world…… Merry, merry Christmas to you!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. During my hubby’s military service at Fort Sill, so had to be sometime between 1977-1981 and again 1983-84. I still recall seeing women in furs and men in expensive western suits with fancy boots and cowboy hats walking around. And it was our first time “shopping” in a Neiman Marcus store.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Alan, you have such a wonderful way of grabbing the heart and giving attention to deep detail. Thank you.

    I’ve always wondered what it is about those little miniature train scenes or even the tiny Christmas villages that make them so charming—and you hit the nail on the head, they lack the cruelty of this world. Likewise all of the nativity sets we see at this time of year surely aren’t anywhere close to accurate either, with their seemingly perfect placement and such. At least we know Heaven holds a place with a fairy-tale-type happy-ending, much like the miniature Christmas scenes we’ve grown to cherish and get “lost” in, with our imaginations running wild.

    Your heart and mind gave notice to the man watching the little trains that day and that alone says much…sometimes the only fitting thing we can do in those circumstances is lift up a prayer over them, and as Christians we know prayer is HUGE.
    How often do these folks go completely unnoticed or entirely snubbed by society? Sad reality……But when “we” feel we can’t do much of anything else there’s always prayers. So thankful to know this truth.❤️🙌

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: