Claire Betts and her husband, Kevin, went to the Edaville Railroad Christmas Festival of Lights for one of their first dates in the 1970s. They’ve been going back ever since — along with their children, grandchildren, and lots of other relatives.
“We go every single Christmas,” said Claire, who recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary by giving her husband an Edaville cranberry crate to display in his toy train room in their Pembroke home. “I cannot tell you how special that place is to my family. It’s just become part of our Christmas.”
The train ride through the decorated and illuminated amusement park built around cranberry bogs in Carver is a holiday tradition for thousands of South Shore families, who have been coming to the rural site for almost 75 years.
“About 100,000 people come at Christmas,” said Samantha Allen, marketing director for what is now called Edaville Family Theme Park. She said many in the crowd announce that they have been bringing their families for years.
“We see great-grandmas and great-grandpas, grandma and grandpa, on down,” she said. “We hear a lot that it’s nice to have a place that doesn’t involve video games. Cell service isn’t that great here, so you can’t be on your phone. And people like that.”
Edaville Railroad — named for the initials of founder Ellis D. Atwood — took shape in the mid-1940s when Atwood bought up 2-foot gauge railroad trains and 5½ miles of track from Maine’s shuttered rail system to use at his cranberry plantation in Carver.
Atwood began giving rides through the bogs — charging nothing at first, and then a nickel — and gradually developed a “family fun park” with carnival rides, extravagant holiday displays, and lots of ornamental lights.
The 250-acre park went through several owners over the years, and closed in the 1990s, before making a comeback. The park now includes Thomas Land, a theme area based on the children television character Thomas the Tank Engine. There’s also Dino Land, a walking trail populated by life-size animatronic dinosaurs, which is closed for the season.
Dickens Village is open, though, as is the original Cran Central, which features many of the rides.
The Christmas Festival of Lights has gotten bigger and bigger over time, Allen said, and now features about 12 million lights. To get ready, the park closes at the end of October for two weeks, she said. More than 100 seasonal workers come in to help string lights, set up characters and window displays created by the in-house design team, and install tall “gingerbread” characters around the park.
“Everyone is all hands on,” Allen said. “We use it as team building. When we are fully staffed, we have 180 to 220 people.”
The highlight of the season is the train ride — 23 minutes of chugging for 2.5 miles through the magical landscape. The ride is included in the $37 admission ticket, $32 for toddlers and seniors.
For an extra $12, participants can ride the “Edaville Express: Where’s Santa Train Ride,” which lasts 45 minutes and involves singing and dancing with elves, a search for a missing Christmas character — Santa and Mrs. Claus take turns disappearing — chocolate milk, cookies, and presents.
Allen said while new attractions have been added, the train itself remains the same as when the park first opened — something she said families appreciate as they come back year after year.
She added that she is planning to bring her first child — 3-month old Wes — to the Christmas festival this year. “I’m looking for the family traditions I want to start,” she said.
Edaville Family Theme Park’s Christmas Festival of Lights is open through Jan. 1 at 5 Pine St., Carver; closed on Christmas Day. More information and tickets are available at www.edaville.com.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.