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Four-year-old Andrew Davis of Braintree, Massachusetts plays with a toy train outside of the depot in downtown Woonsocket.

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — Christmas may be a month away, but the holiday season arrived right on schedule with the departure of the Polar Express Train Ride, one of the Blackstone Valley’s premiere holiday events and the nation’s longest-running Polar Express-themed ride.

Among those families who wore matching pajamas aboard the locomotive last weekend were four generations of family members from Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Family matriarch Lindy Giles explained that she was at the Blackstone Valley Train Depot with her daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren, all brimming with excitement for the upcoming train ride.

“I love it, this is our fifth year here and we love it,” Giles said. “They’re just awesome, they do an awesome job here. The kids love it, and I’m a little kid myself, so I love it.”

“We’ve gone to other places and we came here five years ago and found this one the best, so we keep coming back,” she added. “It’s so much fun.”

The Polar Express train ride departs from the historic depot in downtown Woonsocket and rides the Providence-Worcester Railroad. The 90-minute excursion aboard a locomotive replicated to resemble the Polar Express features a reading of the classic children’s story, sing-a-longs, hot chocolate served in a souvenir mug, cookies, games, and a visit from Santa Claus, where he personally delivers a silver bell – the first gift of Christmas – to every child on board.

A ticket aboard the train also includes a limited-edition tote bag, a song book, and a die-cut golden ticket. Children also receive a custom Blackstone Valley Polar Express coloring book.

The event includes a group of more than 60 cast members who present a reading of the story on the ride from Woonsocket to Uxbridge — which represents “The North Pole” — and back. Each of the train’s six cars has its own show and the six cars are each named after one of Santa Claus’ reindeer.

The annual holiday celebration kicked off last Friday evening and continues on weekends through Dec. 22.

The train ride is wildly popular, drawing huge crowds from across Rhode Island and New England who descend upon downtown Woonsocket. And while it has plenty of repeat customers, there are also numerous first-timers aboard each train.

John Bussiere of Dartmouth, Mass. was with his five-year-old twins Alex and Abby. The family was taking pictures with characters from the Chris Van Allsburg book – which in 2004 was adapted into a hit animated movie starring Tom Hanks – as they awaited the familiar call of “all aboard!”

“There is (a lot of excitement), especially for the children,” Bussiere said. “It’s less about the entertainment and more about family time and having memories, long-lasting memories, and enjoyment.”

His twin children were unaware of what the day held until early Saturday morning, when they were informed of the early Christmas present – a ride aboard the Polar Express.

“They were very excited,” Bussiere added.

Woonsocket resident Amanda Arnold was with her husband and their two nieces – Maegen and Lilith – and they were also awaiting their inaugural ride aboard the festive train.

“I’m ecstatic, getting to experience the whole experience,” Arnold said. “Christmastime is one of the best times of the year, it’s mainly for family and it’s exciting.”

As a fan of both the book and the film version of the famed Christmas tale, Arnold said she was “ecstatic” to board the train and see the celebration. As for her nieces’ reaction to finding out they would be aboard Saturday afternoon’s train?

“Oh my god, they were freaking out,” she said with a laugh.

The ride, which is presented by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, departs on weekends through Dec. 22 from the train station at 1 Depot Square in Woonsocket. The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council recommends arriving at the train station in Woonsocket at least one hour prior to the train’s departure time, as the station is filled with activities for children, including pictures with Christmas characters, snacks, a gift shop, and letters to Santa.

For more information on the Polar Express and to purchase tickets, visit: www.blackstonevalleypolarexpress.com.

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