The Miraculous Staircase in the Loretto Chapel: A Christmas Story?

chapel staircase2-LOn our honeymoon, I insisted that we see the miraculous staircase in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe.  Roger was against this kind of nonsense because the chapel is now privately owned, and there was an entrance fee. The cheesy sign at the door said “Miraculous Staircase TM as seen on Unsolved Mysteries.”    I insisted because I had heard that this chapel is a destination wedding location.  (Indeed, if you are getting married, you may want to look into these affordable packages.)  The new bride won, and we took a quick tour.

Three years later, I had thought that the legacy of our brief encounter with the beautiful spiral staircase was a few photos in our honeymoon album; however, this summer, I found a Norman Rockwell Christmas book at a flea market, and it contained a short story, “The Miraculous Staircase” by Arthur Gordon (originally published in Woman’s Day Magazine in 1982). Gordon told the  same mystery story of the staircase in a Christmas light.  In his story, the nuns had to leave the nearly-finished chapel to serve a measles-ridden village two-days away.  During the time they were gone, a humble carpenter named Joseph arrived on a donkey and built the staircase.  The nuns returned on Christmas Eve, and, at the stroke of midnight, the staircase was revealed.  In the short story and in the legend published online, the carpenter disappeared. There is no record of payment.chapel staircase 3

Here’s a link to the official Loretto Chapel website, which references the story. I have included a short clip from a video that explains the staircase.

I can’t wait to read more of the Norman Rockwell Christmas book.  I have a feeling there will be more Christmas surprises.

Choo-choo: It’s the Santa Train!

Santa Train 2Last week one of our readers suggested we do a little research about the Santa Train.  I had no knowledge of this train and the research was fun to get into.  There are lots of Christmas trains and Santa Expresses all around the U.S. but there is only one true Santa Train.  That train is the one that travels each year from Shelby, KY to Kingsport, TN on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Santa TrainThe “Santa Special” started in 1943 as a way for a group of Kingsport businessmen to show appreciation for the patronage of all the coal workers throughout the region.  The train has made an annual journey every year since.  In those early years during WWII the train was most likely the only sign of Christmas and source of gifts for those in the remote area.  Over the years the size and scope of the train has continued to grow.  Today the train follows a 110-mile route from Kentucky, through Virginia, and ending in Tennessee. The train passes through as many as 30 towns along the way and makes about 14 stops.  The train hauls more than 15 tons of goodies and supplies valued at as much as $500,000.  There are gifts, toys, stuffed animals, games, hats, gloves, mittens, and more clothes.  Candy, crackers, cookies, popcorn, and gum also come aboard the train.  At each stop volunteers hop off the train and hand out bags of items packed based on the age of the children.  Soft items and candy are tossed by Santa and friends at the back of train.  Crowds as large as 1,000 gather around the tracks in anticipation of the arrival of the train.  These gifts might be the only Christmas a child in Appalachia will see.  Read a great account of one family at the train on the MTSU student news site Sidelines.

Santa Train 3The train takes donations from anyone at anytime.  You can mail handmade items, monetary gifts, or other toys to the Train.  Find all the details on the official website for Team Santa Train.  Private donors supplement the corporate sponsorships from CSX railroad, Food City, Dignity U Wear, and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber is the lead sponsor and source of all the details for the train and continues to make improvements to the whole experience.  In recent years they have added celebrity volunteers to the train like Allison Krauss, The Judds, Patty Loveless, Travis Tritt, Kathy Mattea, and, in 2012, Thompson Square.  A $5,000 scholarship is awarded in connection with the train to a high school senior from one of the schools along the train’s route.  The volunteers gathered by the Chamber tell all that they are the true gift recipients through the joy and happiness of helping do more for others with less.  That’s the true spirit of Christmas after all isn’t it?  Watch this video showing some of their joy.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXxuCcmwfRc]

Finding Christmas- What’s Your Center?

nicholas-st-northI am continually on the watch for Christmas hidden in just about any time, place, or thing.  It’s part of being focused on Christmas all year round.  Last week I went with some friends to see the Dream Works movie Rise of the Guardians.  No, I wasn’t surprised to find a Christmas connection, it’s a Christmas season movie after all.  I was very surprised though in just how good it was and the great Christmas message it had to share.  It teaches about the importance of wonder, hope, dreams, and especially fun.  You also get a really strong story about knowing who you are and being that person, no matter what.  Check out the Guardians website for your own overview of the specifics, some games, clips, and a lot of fun.

rise-of-the-guardiansThe movie is based on a book series titled The Guardians of Children by William Joyce.  The story centers on the Guardians.  These are the protectors of children chosen by the Man in the Moon.  Each of the Guardians guards a particular part of being a child against the darkness of nightmares and fear, all controlled by the Bogeyman, Pitch.  Nicholas St. North (Santa Claus) is the guardian of wonder, the Tooth Fairy the guardian of memories, the Easter Bunny the guardian of hope, and the Sandman the guardian of dreams.  The Guardians must work with a newly chosen guardian, Jack Frost, to fight off the latest attack from Pitch.  The Children of the world give the power to the guardians through their belief in them.  It is that belief that makes it all possible.  Jack is frustrated because kids don’t believe in him so he isn’t “real”.

Rise of the Guardians 1This struggle leads to one of the best parts of the film.  North is trying to explain to Jack how it works.  He shares his own nesting doll to explain that it is who we are at our center that defines us.  North’s center is represented by a tiny wooden doll with HUGE eyes, the eyes of wonder.  He gives us wonder in everything, a magic in the air, lights in trees- he puts it into the World.  (Here’s a link to a low quality clip of North talking to Jack)  If Jack can find his center then children will believe in him and he will know what it is he is to be the guardian over for the children.  North’s center is Wonder and Jack must discover his center.  The journey he takes to find it and the connection to the Christmas spirit is a great story.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet, go now.  I plan to purchase my own DVD soon as I can!