Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Aly from Powell, OH. Aly Wonders, “How long have people been putting trains around their Christmas trees?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Aly!

With Christmas just around the corner, you may be spending more time than usual staring under the Christmas tree. If there are packages piled up under the tree, it's a sure bet there are children anxious to find out what's in them.

If you're like some families, there might be more than presents under the Christmas tree. In addition to a tree skirt and a pile of gifts, some families also engage in a longstanding tradition of assembling a toy train under the Christmas tree.

Beneath the twinkling lights and amongst the packages, tiny tracks weave in and out and around the tree, carrying old-fashioned train cars in an endless loop around the bottom of the tree. So exactly what do toy trains have to do with Christmas and how did this tradition get started?

No one knows for sure how the tradition of toy trains under the Christmas tree got started, but historians believe the tradition dates back at least 100 years. In fact, it probably got started in the early 1900s, around the time when manufacturer Lionel began to produce the first electric toy trains.

Lionel's electric toy trains were very popular. In fact, they became the focus of a new hobby: model railroads. Since most children were more familiar with trains than automobiles, toy train sets were popular requests for Christmas gifts. Upon opening a toy train set, assembling it to run under the Christmas tree was a natural thing to do.

For many Americans, toy trains also evoked sentimental feelings similar to the other emotions associated with Christmas. Christmas was a time when many people traveled long distances to reach home or to see relatives. Most of these journeys would involve a train ride. Likewise, the nation's railroads were a primary means of transporting packages around the country at Christmastime.

Over time, many families added to their toy train set-up year after year. What might have started out as a simple circular track around the tree with a few train cars could eventually become an elaborate layout with multiple tracks, as well as buildings. Some families began constructing entire holiday villages under their Christmas trees soon after Thanksgiving.

With the rise of modern technology and electronic gadgets filling Christmas wish lists, toy trains under the Christmas tree became less prevalent. Within the past decade or so, though, some experts have seen a renewed interest in the toy train tradition.

Some experts believe this resurgence of toy trains might have to do with the popularity of modern entertainment that features trains prominently. From Thomas the Tank Engine to the Hogwarts Express of the Harry Potter books to The Polar Express movie, trains have made a comeback in the public's imagination. Train enthusiasts hope that interest continues to fuel a return to the time-honored tradition of old-fashioned toy trains under the Christmas tree.

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day will have you seeing red and green!