A question we are often asked is what scale the various Christmas village manufacturers work to. Usually, the motivation behind this question is the desire to accessorize with items other than those made by a particular brand. Most commonly, we find the question of scale stems from the desire to add a train set or cable car/ski lift to enhance a village display.
The first thing to understand is that Christmas village products are made for decorative purposes and are not intended to be replicas. Therefore, they are not usually accurate scale models. If you were to examine most product ranges closely, you will find there are discrepancies of scale. For example, if you compare figurines to the buildings you are likely to find that many would not be a perfect fit and you may discover that ceilings are too low were these figurines actually to reside in their porcelain homes. When choosing a train set for your village then, it is not possible to find an equivalent scale but necessary to find the one that is most appropriate.
Other things to consider when choosing a model train are the availability and diversity of a particular range, cost and also what other non-brand products you already have or may want to include in your village. If at some point you might consider adding a cable car, it is worth remembering that Jaegendorfer, the principle manufacturer of these products, make models in both 1:32 and also 1:87 scales. In this case and to prevent too much variation in scales, it might make sense to choose a train set in a similar scale to one or other of these.
Of course, Christmas village brands are well aware of consumer desire to add trains to villages and have taken measures to fulfil and address this need. Lemax, in particular, have produced a number of trains, tracks and stations to their various collections. Their first attempt came with the 1994 Santa’s Express, Set Of 3, which was static and as with many early Lemax models was a slightly crude porcelain design. This was followed with the much better and certainly more attractive (but still static), Sugar ‘N Spice Gingerbread Express.
Lemax’s first working model came with the Village Express. This model came in both three and four car editions which travelled either back and forth on a six-piece straight track or around a 24 inch circular track. This is actually our favourite train from the brand as it has an appearance more like a real train than later versions, with nice additions of pine tree cargo to retain a festive feel.
Lemax’s two later models are The Starlight Express, Set Of 17 and Yuletide Express, Set Of 16. These are animated and musical models which are certainly attractive and a lot of fun. They are, however, a move away from realism in favour of over-the-top festiveness. Each comes complete with both straight and curved track. Track extension or replacement packs are available. While these colourful models may be perfect for Santa’s Wonderland or Carousel village ranges, they are perhaps less ideal for Caddington Village or Vail Village.
Luville too have recognised the consumer desire for trains to enhance their village displays and have in fact created the entire Luville Express series based on this phenomenon. The Luville Express runs from London via Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, and Bucharest to Constantinople. The range features figures, buildings and accessories all designed around the culture of rail travel. Of course, this series wouldn’t be possible without the addition of trains.
Rather than produce their own trains, Luville took a different approach by teaming up with world-renowned model train manufacturer, Hornby. They chose The Flying Scotsman, Caledonian Belle and Santa’s Express to accompany their product range. Hornby trains are of course fabulously detailed and exceptional quality and the Santa’s Express model adds a little festive feel, appropriate to a Christmas village display while retaining most of the Hornby decorum.
The negative aspect of using Hornby trains is that they are produced as 00 (double-0) gauge, also known as OO (double-O) gauge. This represents a scale of 1:76. While the use of Hornby provides a wide variety of good quality products and accessories at relatively affordable prices, we do feel the 00 gauge, 1:76 ratio is smaller than ideal for most village displays. Our feeling is that the Luville/Hornby connection has more to do with sales and endorsements than it does with the appropriateness of scale for the product range. If you do decide to use Hornby models for Luville or any other Christmas village brand, it might be wise to use Jaegerndorfer’s 1:87 scale models if opting to add a cable car.
Other model train manufacturers may offer better options but consideration must be given to appropriateness of scale, availability, diversity of range and cost. Large scale train models, while often incredibly detailed, can also be highly specialised and very expensive. Our feeling is that O gauge (also known as 0 gauge) is perhaps the most appropriate to Christmas village displays. O gauge represents a scale of 1:43.5 (UK models), 1:45 (European models) and 1:48 (US models). Availability and pricing for this scale are reasonable, it is probably the third most popular scale behind HO gauge (roughly equivalent to OO gauge in UK) which is on the small side and N gauge which at 1:14 is much too large for use within a Christmas village display.
Our recommendation then would be to use On30. This is a narrow gauge variant of O gauge and is essentially an O scale model that runs on HO track (HO being the most popular and widely available, also utilised by OO gauge models). The advantage to using HO gauge track is that along with wide availability, it also allows for more compact layouts and tighter turns which is useful for most village layouts.
Major model train manufacturer, Bachmann (among others) produce models in an On30 gauge. Given our arguments above, its also no coincidence that this manufacturer has opted to produce a Christmas themed train set in On30 gauge, although they also have festive models in other scales too. While perhaps not the cheapest option available, Bachmann’s Yuletide Special Delivery is an ideal Christmas village train set. More subtly festive than the Lemax trains, there is also the more generic but equally stunning Rocky Mountain Express set for those that prefer their trains to remain trains. Bachmann also produce a street car or tram with a Christmas theme in an On30 gauge. They also manufactured a rather nice Thomas Kinkade Christmas Express among other models for Bradford Exchange’s Hawthorne Village series.