Some say the Christmas season begins in December. Some pin it to the day after Thanksgiving.
Chances are the scores of people milling around the Paramount Arts Center Saturday would tell you Christmas was already getting started, and that the evidence could be seen all around the theater.
And so it was— Saturday marked the first day for the Festival of Trees and Trains, where elaborately decorated trees get reserved seating on both levels of the auditorium, sharing it only with an equally elaborate large-scale train layout.
“For him it’s the trains, for me it’s the trees,” said Peggy Workman of Louisa, as her 2-year-old grandson Owen Persinger squirmed to get a better look at a passing locomotive.
“He loves trains. That’s why we’re here.”
It was Workman’s first visit to the festival. Her verdict? “It’s beautiful.”
The trees this year, the festival’s 28th, are eye candy for all Christmas lovers, decorated with everything from pine cones to peacocks in themes that run the gamut from dogs to Oz.
The festival’s railroad empire grows every year, and one of this year’s new scenes is a miniature bakery, completely equipped down to tiny doughnuts.
The trains also are better illuminated this year so spectators can better pick out their remarkable details, said festival official Michael Mussetter.
The three trestles spanning the upper aisles are impressive, and attentive viewers will notice smaller scenes nestled in the hollows underneath.
Early attendance on day one was good, according to Mussetter, bolstered by connoisseurs of drama there for the Paramount Players’ performance of “Miracle on 34th Street,” and the kids who shared cookies and cocoa with Santa at his workshop.
Santa will have another get-together with kids next Saturday, Mussetter said.
Would-be decorators can get endless ideas for their own trees, according to Misty Hanshaw, who was in Ashland for an early morning 5K run and stuck around to attend the festival for the first time. “So far it’s neat. I’m getting a lot of ideas I want to do with my own tree,” she said.
Her two daughters want a girly tree, with bows and ribbons, she said, wandering off down the aisle looking for inspiration.
By the time the festival winds down on Nov. 25, officials expect some 12,000 people to see them. The largest crowds typically come on Thanksgiving, and some families have made a tradition of eating their turkey dinners and then heading over to the Paramount.
The festival opens today at noon with the Ashland Regional Youth Ballet performing at 1 p.m.
Musician Isaac Stephens is on at 2 p.m., and the River Magic Chorus follows at 3 p.m.
Kings Way Church is at 4 p.m., Kellys Bridge Band at 5 p.m. and the Advance Methodist Church Handbell Choir at 6 p.m.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2652.