YULETIDE ALL YEAR: If Santa Claus were to emerge from the bullpen on opening day down at the ballpark, or light the first firecracker of the Fourth of July, we might be a mite surprised. But seeing Kris Kringle stroll down the main aisle of a train on any day of the year? We wouldn't even look twice, regardless of the month on the calendar. That's because old-timey choo-choo-ing and the Jolliest of Elves are like two pieces of a puzzle, like peanut butter and jelly, like two ideas that always fit. Perhaps it is the nostalgia factor, the sentimental attachments we put on both train and elf, but we'd be happy to hear some ho-ho-ing on a train ride in March. But come December, tracks around the state welcome a certain Very Special Guest, including some rails that are more associated with the libations of grown-up-hood: The Napa Valley Wine Train.
HERE COME THE SANTA TRAINS: "Popular" is a term that's freely applied to many December doings, but check it, it really needs to be said here: The wine train runs that host Mr. Kringle do sell out, even before the month they happen in. Once your ticket is secured, imagine you and the family socializing with Santa and enjoying the scenery. Nope, these are not gourmet lunch trains -- as the $25-$45 ticket prices denote -- so best grab a bite before boarding. These are all about fun, adventure, a few festive hours on the train, and Mr. Claus making his way to your car.
AS FOR THAT OTHER WINE TRAIN FAVORITE? Carols sung at the depot is a tradition near the tracks, and it returns again. Ready to warble? Be there on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 4. Nope, you won't be on the train, but station-based singing, complete with live piano accompaniment, has a way of jump-starting the festive feeling.