(WJHL) — A Christmastime tradition for more than eight decades, the Santa Train returned to the Southwest Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Northeast Tennessee region on Saturday.

Ninety-nine volunteers on board and 102 more on the ground got a very early start in the morning, and they said it was all worth it to see children’s faces when gifts came rolling off of the train.

President and CEO of railroad company CSX Joe Hinrichs told News Channel 11 that everyone involved, from volunteers to kids, feels their hearts warmed during the daylong event.

“We want as many people to be able to be a part of giving back and feeling this sense of community,” he said. “And what this connection means between CSX and all the other sponsors to the people of Appalachia.”

Jessica Laws is a resident of Dante, Virginia. She said her family’s Christmas season cannot begin until they pay a visit to the Santa Train.

“It’s tradition,” she said. “Got to do it. If you’re from here, this is part of the year.”

This year’s Santa Train marks only the second run since the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to create an alternate approach to distributing gifts. Nonetheless, surrounding communities gathered in droves to catch a glimpse of Santa and gratefully receive a Christmas gift.