The Christmas period is truly a magical time for many people all over the world – none more so than children.

Youngsters will count down the days on their advent calendars while writing their letters to send to Santa at the North Pole. It is a time where people get together and share time with the one's they love, wear silly party hats and generally just enjoy an occasion that only comes around once a year.

All throughout the festive season there are number of special events designed to celebrate this great time of year. Whether it be Christmas carol services, a trip to Santa's workshop or simply doing a bit of late night shopping in the bustling high streets, there is something to do during the festive days and weeks.

There is one long standing tradition that continues to be a big favourite with children and adults and one that combines the merriment of Christmas with steam trains – Santa Specials.

Heritage railways up and down the land are always ready to get into the spirit of the season and these special train routes are the perfect way to warm up for the big day. The trains provide everything anyone could want as a pre-Christmas treat. While the kids are able to meet Santa and even receive a gift from the big man himself, the grown-ups can enjoy a mince pie and an alcoholic tipple.

It also provides a huge boost for the heritage railways themselves by allowing people to enjoy a day out on a steam train that they may not have been able to – or thought to – do in the past. Many companies turn the service into a whole event with entertainment on and off the train at the various stations on the route.

In North Yorkshire, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway take the Santa Specials very seriously with the whole month of December being dedicated to a series of Christmassy journeys. The company runs four services every day up to the final weekend before Christmas providing a host of fun and games for children and adults alike.

Running from Pickering to Levisham, passengers are treated to some on board entertainment from Santa and his elves, while, when alighting on this 90-minute journey they are greeted by various musical treats. At Pickering station, the railway company has enlisted the help of Malton White Star Band, Pickering Music Society, Hunmanby Brass Band and Swinton Excelsior Band.

The level of effort that goes into planning a Santa Special event highlights the importance that many railway companies place on the festive period.

When it comes to riding on a steam train there is not many better feelings than gliding through a snowy landscape with a glass of sherry in one hand and a mince pie in the other. It is something that has become a tradition for many people and being able to take a ride on a steam train just before the festivities of Christmas is something that many look forward all year round, and in 2014 it will be no different.