Web Exclusive: All aboard The Polar Express believe in the magic of the holidays

Kelly Petryszyn

This year, Tiffany Szokan was not looking forward to Christmas.

“I wasn’t into the whole concept of Christmas this year,” the Garfield Heights resident said.

Szokan said she is facing a tight budget this Christmas season. To get into the Christmas spirit, she volunteered to be an elf on the Polar Express, a program put on by the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

The Polar Express is an annual holiday program that started Nov. 17 and is running seven days a week through Dec. 20. Kelly Steele, director of marketing for CVSR, said although the train is sold out this year, volunteers are still needed to work at the North Pole.

Guests travel to the North Pole on a train ride in a program modeled after the book, “The Polar Express,” by Chris Van Allsburg. The trip gives children a chance to “live the story,” volunteer Anne Stokes said.

Szokan became Elf Tiffy on Nov. 29, her first day of volunteer work.

“The experience was really heart-warming,” she said. “It was fun to see all the kids smiling and all excited.”

The train departs from Rockside and heads to Peninsula, where the “North Pole” is located. As the train headed toward its destination, anticipation built and excitement completely filled the train when they arrived, Szokan said.

“All the kids’ faces lit up,” she said. “They were all gasping and giggling, all so thrilled.”

Steele was overwhelmed herself as the train made it to the North Pole.

“I had to step out of the car because I was sobbing,” she said, adding that the train ride helps the children believe in the magic of the holidays.

“Seeing their faces is just incredible,” she said. “(They) truly believe they’re at the North Pole.”

Stokes said her daughter ( who was at the North Pole when the train pulled up) saw one boy from the window who looked scared, but his face turned into pure joy when he saw Santa Claus. He looked to his dad for confirmation – Was it really Santa Claus? The boy’s father nodded and said, “Yeah, it is.”

When Santa Claus entered the car the boy ran to him.

To Volunteer

Be a part of the magic by working at the North Pole.

Call 1-800-468-4070 and ask for the Volunteer Coordinator.

Or visit the Web site at www.cvsr.com.

Volunteering at the North Pole is a one hour time commitment.

Volunteers may dress in own costume or use one that’s available.

Hot chocolate and cookies provided.

“Kids are growing up too quick and losing the magic,” Szokan said. (This is) something to look forward to and look back on.”

On the return trip, the children participated in a pajama parade, in which they pranced up and down the aisles in a wide assortment of colorful, fuzzy pajamas.

“(They) were marching back and forth,” Szokan said. “(They) didn’t want to sit down.”

Szokan said she had fun being ‘Elf Tiffy’ for a night and wishes to do it again next year.

The train departs from Akron, Canton and Rockside. Tickets for next year’s Polar Express can be purchased beginning in August. CVSR hosts many seasonal events including Mr. Jingeling’s Holiday Express and the Christmas Tree Adventure, which begin Dec. 6.

Szokan said her experience helped realize what Christmas is about.

“(It’s) not all about the money,” she said. “(It’s) about bringing families together.”