This two-day lesson examines a holiday tradition found in Southwest Virginia.  This is a good lesson to examine Appalachia – its geography, people, and music.

This lesson can encompass the following Standards of Learning:

VS.1 – The student will demonstrate skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision making, and responsible citizenship by

  • a)   using artifacts and primary and secondary sources to develop an understanding of Virginia history;
  • b)   using basic map skills to support an understanding of Virginia history;
  • c)   using and creating graphs, diagrams, and pictures to determine characteristics of people, places, or events to support an understanding of Virginia history;
  • d)   asking appropriate questions to solve a problem; 
  • e)   comparing and contrasting people, places, or events in Virginia history;

VS.2 – The student will demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between physical geography and the lives of the native peoples, past and present, of Virginia by:

  • a)   locating Virginia and its bordering states on maps of the United States
  • b)   locating and describing Virginia’s Coastal Plain (Tidewater), Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, Valley and Ridge, and Appalachian Plateau;

The Santa Train has a facebook page for more information and images.

  • What are some of your family’s holiday traditions?
  • What do you associate with the culture of Appalachia and Southwest Virginia?
  • The student will examine a local holiday tradition.
  • The student will determine the difference between wants and needs.
  • The student will identify the region of Appalachia.

Stereotype: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing

Appalachia: Appalachia is a cultural region in the Eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York State to northern Alabama and Georgia

Opening Activity Day 1: Wrap a package and sit in the front of the classroom. Put in the package something you need–socks, gloves, etc. Have the students make predictions about what is in the package. Unwrap the package to reveal that it is not a want but a need. Complete a class chart on the difference between needs and wants.

Today’s story takes place in Southwest Virginia in the Appalachian mountains.   Give Background on the Appalachian Mountains and show a map of SWVA.  

Every year a train goes through these mountains and stops in small towns to give gifts to children in these towns. It is called the Christmas Train.  

Read “Silver Packages”  and discuss guiding questions below – 15 minutes

Youtube Read Aloud of Silver Packages

Key Questions to ask as reading:

  • Do you think Frankie and his family are rich or poor?
  • How do the gifts help him each year?
  • How would you feel if you didn’t get what you wanted, but got what you needed instead?
  • Does Frankie get his wish?
  • Who is the grown man in the story?
  • What did the grown man become in the story?
  • Why does he return to his mountain home?

Have students complete the following sequencing organizer:

Silver Packages Sequencing Google Doc

Extension Activities:

-Have class complete a service project to help community

-Have students write a letter to Santa and list to needs and one want

Day 2 Activity

Opening Activity: 

1. Ask students “What is Appalachia?” Have them brainstorm ideas/descriptions.  This also can lead to a great discussion on stereotypes.  

2. Discuss with students how geographers and historians define regions. Show them current maps of the Appalachian Region. Have students label the states of Appalachia on outline Appalachian_Region_Map.

3.  Discuss Holiday Traditions from your part of Virginia that other students across the state may not know about.  

Discuss story from yesterday and then have students watch YouTube videos on the Real Santa Train.

A Rare Look Upon the Santa Train

How Christmas Moves: CSX

After students have viewed the clips ask the following questions

  1. What did you notice about the geography?
  2. What did you see?
  3. What did you notice about the surroundings?

Activity: Display the stops of the Santa Train Map and have students label their map of Appalachia with some stops of the train.

Have students listen to “The Santa Train” by Patty Loveless

Activity:  Have students interview an adult about their own favorite Christmas Tradition. This can be a video interview, a written interview, or recorded interview.

Extension Activity: 

  • Partner with a school in another part of the state and have students write letters describing various holiday traditions.
  • Use Santa Train Map in math class to determine elapsed time between stops 

Nye. (2014, December 14).

Nashville Steam. (2019, December 24).

Delay in Block Productions. (2017, January 21st).

Patty Loveless. (2017, April 9).

Images from Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Santa Train Facebook Page