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Christmas Trains and Unexpected Jungles at the U.S. Botanic Garden

December 19, 2022

For many years, my family had a model train that came out at Christmas and chugged around in a child-protected, tree-adjacent space. My father, the model train extravaganza ringleader, was always excited about the wonder of the Christmas train, and us kids couldn’t help but be excited, too.

During the annual train unveiling, the living room’s overhead lights would be turned out. Two things in the room continued to sparkle though: the candy-cane-laden Christmas tree and the engine light at the front of the model Christmas train. It was a special, sugar-filled time.

U.S. Botanic Garden Holiday Train with the National Museum of the American Indian in the Distance

Until a month ago, I was completely unaware that the U.S. Botanic Garden puts on a holiday train display every year. True, it’s been a long time since I thought that a Christmas train was a normal part of Christmas, but something about knowing there was a Christmas train just a few blocks away brought back all the memories.

As a result of my being on the wrong Smithsonian listservs, I missed the bad years when it would take two hours in the U.S. Botanic Garden line to enter the building and see the train display. Today, I learned that the U.S. Botanic Garden is managed by Congress, and the Smithsonian was never going to tell me about Botanic Garden events. I’m pretty sure I used to know that. Now, I will never forget!

U.S. Botanic Garden Holiday Train with Llama

What really matters is this: The trains currently are outside, and everyone can come and go easily.

The trains are huge — G-gauge! I didn’t actually know what that meant until I looked it up over the weekend, but gauge size was the first thing my Dad asked about when I sent him pictures. The three levels of trains run simultaneously through farming scenes made from plants.

Cake Man and I only semi-froze while I ogled the massive trains, marveled at the detail in the display, and nudged between enthusiastic eight-year-olds to get some good views.

U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol in the U.S. Botanic Garden Jungle

Almost as an afterthought, Cake Man and I popped inside the main building. I’ll admit that I was in search of something weird like festively-decorated corpse flowers, actual candy canes growing from peppermint plants, or sentient unionized orchids demanding a pay raise.

And, lo, we did find something weird — “Plant-Based D.C. Landmarks at the U.S. Botanic Garden.”

What that title fails to capture is the post-apocalyptic, over-grown jungle nature of the display. This is the kind of thing I leave the house for! Christmas trains may be all Dad, but plant-related insanity is all Mom, who is a most notorious fallen seed pilferer.

The building sculptures are different every year. I lucked out that this first year I visited included bizarro sculptures of buildings in my favorite city in the world–Washington, D.C.!

National Museum of the American Indian in the U.S. Botanic Garden Jungle

It’s impossible not to love the bone archway entrance to the National Museum of the American Indian. That sculpture was THE. BEST.

White House in the U.S. Botanic Garden Jungle

The White House sculpture was a close runner up for THE. BEST.

Lincoln Memorial in the U.S. Botanic Garden Jungle

As usual, Abraham Lincoln brings gravitas to any gathering, even one surrounded by ruination.

National Gallery of Art in the U.S. Botanic Garden Jungle

Never before have I been so convinced that the National Gallery of Art wanted to take a bite out of me.

National Museum of African American History and Culture in the U.S. Botanic Garden Jungle

The second-most pleasing treatment was given to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Doing Meta Right — U.S. Botanic Garden Jungle inside the U.S. Botanic Garden

I feel like the artist might have had an ulterior motive for making the U.S. Botanic Garden sculpture simply lovely. It’s not smart to bite the hand that feeds you, but I get a Jekyll and Hyde impression from this one.

Please note: the artist appears in no way to have intended for me to think their sculptures are bizarro or post-apocalyptic or part of a representation in a ruined Washington D.C…..but that’s totally what they are!

Now that I know the holiday trains are at the U.S. Botanic Garden every year, I bet I can entice Dad to join me for a future visit. Assuming the footage of Mom’s Bartholdi Fountain exploits has been lost, and Congress will let her back on U.S. Botanic Garden grounds, I’m pretty sure I can convince Mom to visit, too.

Merry Weird Christmas!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave permalink
    December 24, 2022 7:15 pm

    Happy Birthday Andrea!

    Liked by 1 person

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