The SBB Advent story: Tim and Jane’s great adventure.

“I'm really looking forward to Christmas,” said Jane, watching the mainline trains rush through the station as she sat on the platform. “If things stay on track, Christmas will arrive faster than any InterCity.”

But Tim looked forlornly across the tracks: “Christmas? No thanks! Winter’s so cold and grey. And everyone’s so worked up or stressed. What’s so festive about that? Do you remember? Back when we were in school, we could hardly wait: our eyes lit up like a Christmas tree as soon as Advent arrived. But where’s the magic gone? And the excitement?”

“The excitement?”, Jane muttered and gave herself time to think as a train ran through: “I’ve got an idea! I’ll give you a present.”

“A present? Please not socks!”

“No, but it will knock your socks off! Something that won’t fit under any Christmas tree, but will make you believe in Christmas again.”

“That’s easier said than done,” said Tim sarcastically.

“Listen,” said Jane, “we won’t go on a shopping trip, we’ll go on a train trip and head off on our own Advent adventure – there’s a reason why it’s called Advent-ure. We’ll get back on the rails and head out into the world. You’ll see Switzerland’s most scenic spots – they’re second to none. And we’ll feel that excitement again which you’ve been missing for so long. Every place will be as spectacular as the last. And so that we don’t forget where we’ve been, I’ll jot down the places in my little notebook. And I’ll also show you Switzerland’s greatest pass!”

“The Furka pass? Or the Simplon pass?!”

“The SwissPass!!”

At that, not even Tim could stifle a smile. So maybe his Christmas will be festive after all?

1. December: The adventure gets going.

Tim no longer believes in the magic and excitement of Christmas. But Jane certainly does! She has thought up a thrilling journey for him, an unforgettable adventure which will make him think again. And Jane and Tim won’t just experience the magic, they’ll keep track of it in a notebook. Like a child about to embark on their first train trip, Jane can’t control her excitement when she gets to the ticket machine: “Tim, it’s up to you. What feeling would you most like to experience right now?”

Tim thinks about it and says: “The feeling of having...

69% of you chose: ...boundless freedom.”

2. December: Boundless freedom in Olten.

“Tadaaa” Jane rejoices as she gets off the train with Tim. Tim looks around sceptically. “You’re taking me to Olten? That’s boundless freedom?” “Of course! People say: all roads lead to Rome. And even more go through Olten!” Tim remains sceptical: “So there’s sure to be a train leaving here soon.” “OK, scatterbrain,” says Jane, “so patience isn’t your superpower. But what gift do you wish you had?”

Tim replies: “I’d like…

60% of you chose: …to be able to fly!”

3. December: The gateway to the world.

“How I would love to be able to fly,” Tim says dreamily, as he and Jane watch planes taking off and landing at Zurich Airport. “I’d race the birds.”. Jane giggles: “the birds would think you’d gone cuckoo!”. Tim and Jane thought their own thoughts for a moment, and then Jane said: “I’ve got wanderlust.”

“Ok,” Jane says, “let’s get wandering! Where shall we set off to?”. Tim replies:

67% of you chose: “The sea.”

4. December: The sea in Ascona.

“Don’t you just love to be beside the seaside?” Tim thought the world was turning on its head. “Beside the sea?” But Lago Maggiore is just a lake?!” “Why the ‘just’? You ‘just’ need a bit more imagination. Look at the sunny beach.” Tim wants to head back to the stop. “It’s freezing cold and I’m shivering all over.” Jane sighs: “You look just like a mummy dressed up in that full winter gear.” “That’d be just the ticket. Let’s go and see a film about mummies!” says Tim.

Where should they go and watch a film about mummies?

81% of you chose: At the Locarno Film Festival

5. December: Lights, camera, action!

“We’ve hit the darned buffers, we’ve missed the film festival by several weeks,” Jane says at Locarno station. Tim responds thoughtfully: “I could never be a film director. I have no ideas.” “What rubbish! Everyone has a creative side. You just need to find your inspiration.” Jane points to the trains. “You could make a western about trains. Called: Once Upon a Time on the Train. Or something more romantic: Beauty and the Ballast.”

Tim says: “Definitely, I’d love to shoot a…

67% of you chose: …western.”

6. December: An old friend in the middle of the forest.

The next stage of Tim and Jane’s journey takes them into the forest. “What are we doing here?” Tim asks. But before Jane can reply, a voice echoes around them: “Have you been good this year?” Santa Claus! “What have you got in your sack, old man?” “Cheeky people like you,” the bearded man retorted. “What’s got into him?” Tim muttered to Jane. “Santa’s got claws!” They start giggling and Santa Claus gives them an angry stare.

Tim and Jane…

88% of you chose: …don’t budge and hold their ground.

7. December: Scared? Don’t be a chicken!

“I’m not scared!” Jane says. Santa Claus gives her an angry glare: “You should be! You’ve not been good this year! I heard you keep laughing about train crew who speak somewhat broken French.” “Ow... I’m afraid so. I’ll never ever do it again. That’s a promise!” “Good,” Santa Claus said, “I’ll take your word for it.” Jane and Tim sheepishly take some little mandarins and nuts. They got off lightly! 

Jane and Tim decide it’s time to move on. Jane wants Tim to find out more about another famous person. But who should they go and visit? Someone who...

51% of you chose: …is just like Santa Claus.

8. December: A real hero.

Tim looks up at the Tell monument in amazement and says in an unusually upbeat tone: “This guy Tell was a real hero. A fearless chap with a beard, just like Santa Claus.”. “Good old William wasn’t just a crossbow champion”, Jane explains. “He was also an inventor. He even brought us the tell-ephone.” Jane gives herself a mental round of applause for this in-tell-igent pun. She doesn’t care that Tim never falls for it.

Their next destination is to be inspired by Tell, the national hero. Where should they head?

51% of you chose: To the smallest place in Switzerland, as famous as William Tell.

9. December: The smallest place in Switzerland.

After a cosy train journey our two adventurers arrive in Melide near Lugano. “For some reason I thought Swiss Miniatur would be bigger”, says Tim. Jane watches the model trains: “You really have to squint here. As if things weren’t visible to the human eye. Even my own problems seem but a dot on the horizon. Even tinier than one of those mysterious particles at Cern.”

Tim says:

54% of you chose: “Cern’s brilliant. Let’s go there!”

10. December: The God Particle in Geneva.

Jane and Tim’s journey takes them to Geneva. “Voilà! Cern, the world-leading research centre. This is where scientists search for the ’God Particle’.” “My God!”, says Tim, “Physics and maths aren’t my thing. For me it just doesn’t add up.” “Amen”, says Jane. “So you don’t like physics or maths, but what school subject are you passionate about?”

Which subject should inspire the next stop on their tour?

51% of you chose: History

11. December: Wild Lake Lucerne?

“Do you get seasick?”, asks Tim. “Don’t be silly”, says Jane, clinging onto the railings on the boat. “If there’s a storm, I won’t even notice!” “Jane, there’s not even any wind”, Tim laughs. “But what if there are pirates?” “There aren’t any pirates on Lake Lucerne. You’re more likely to come across stand-up paddleboaders. And before you ask: there aren’t any sharks or crocodiles either!” “I’ve got nothing against crocs, as long as it’s just the locomotive.”

Does Tim know what the crocodile loco is?

79% of you chose: Yes, of course!

12. December: The clever man travels by train.

Jane and Tim get on the next train and make themselves at home in a four-seat compartment. “Of course I know these crocodiles – the beautiful old locos”, says Tim. “You’re a pretty clever boy”, Jane replies. Tim blushes: “And where are we going next?” “We’re already there! The journey is the destination! The clever man travels by train.” “And what about stupid men?” “They do too. SBB is there for everyone.” Jane and Tim laugh.

Then they hear something very familiar.

52% of you chose: “Tickets please.”

13. December: He’s a quick thinker.

“Tickets please!”, the train crew member says and Tim gets his ticket out quick as a flash. Jane fumbles around in her trouser and jacket pockets and even thinks of looking in her socks. Tim takes the opportunity to try to lighten the mood: “Don’t worry, as the Beatles said: ‘She’s got a ticket to ride’.” The crew member chuckles and Jane finally finds her ticket. “Ha ha, thanks Tim, that was a good one!” 

Jane wants a bit more of Tim’s infectious humour. So where should they go?

78% of you chose: In Appenzell (for the cheesy jokes)

14. December: Cheesy jokes in Appenzell.

Jane and Tim have only just got off the train in Appenzell but Jane is already on fire: “Why did the train thief camouflage the railway? Because she wanted to cover her tracks. How did the locomotive get so good at its job? It trained every day.” But Tim doesn’t erupt into laughter – he doesn’t even let out a little chuckle. Tim asks: “Have we really just come to Appenzell so you have an excuse to tell cheesy jokes? You can’t be serious?”.

How should Jane react?

53% of you chose: She should give Tim a break.

15. December: All the world’s a platform.

Tim was enjoying the moment of calm. But as soon as he’d had enough of the silence, he asked Jane: “Actually, why do you like travelling by train so much?” Jane’s face lights up like a signal: “It’s been in my genes for generations! If I ever have children, I’ll give them a model railway! But that’s still ahead of me. Or to put it better: further down the line?” Tim rolls his eyes: “And how are we going to get moving in the present?”

What train should Jane and Tim take next? The next…

56% of you chose: …regional train?

16. December: Jane takes stock.

“Our journey is like a regional train”, Jane says to Tim, who’s looking out of the window of the regional train, “slow and steady wins the race. Feel the calm and go with the flow. So I want to ask you: can you feel it yet?” Tim is completely lost: “Can I feel what?” “Can you feel the Christmas spirit yet?” She takes a look at her notebook. “We’ve already experienced such a lot – and felt so many different feelings!”

Should Tim agree with Jane?

66% of you chose: Yes, he’s gradually getting into the Christmas spirit.

17. December: Peace in Einsiedeln Abbey.

“So this is where I should feel even Christmassier?”, says Tim. “Pssst!” says Jane, perhaps somewhat too loudly. “Could you psst a bit quieter?” a visitor whispers. A lady tells him off: “Silence please!”, which is follows by a series of pssts from all four corners of the room. But the mood doesn’t get Jane down – Einsiedeln Abbey Church is just too impressive for that. “It’s so wonderfully calm here”, she says.

“Now you just need to be quiet and everything will be fine,” Tim replies and continues: “Right now I really fancy…

63% of you chose: … heading off to another idyllic spot.”

18. December: An idyll as far as the eye can see.

“You wanted to head to an idyll – feast your eyes!”, Jane says and exaggerates her enthusiasm as she points to the little town of Gruyères. “As Goethe said: ‘Why travel far and wide? Look, good things lie in French-speaking Switzerland!’” Tim rolls his eyes: “I’m cheesed off!” “You’ve got it. The region is famous for its cheese.” She gets a camera out of her pocket, says “cheese” and sticks the Polaroid instant photo of Tim’s shocked face into her notebook.

Tim feels wound up:

82% of you chose: “Great, now I’m hungry.”

19. December: Jane philosophising in the middle of nowhere.

Jane and Tim have lost their way. While Tim nibbles on a piece of cheese, Jane looks out of the window and tilts her head as if it were a tilting train: “I wonder why we say points when they’re supposed to be so smooth? And are lost returns more often returned to their rightful owners than other tickets? And most importantly: what actually is signalling failure?” The answers are blowing in the wind.

Tim says: “Jane philosophising…

58% of you chose: …I can’t get enough of it!”

20. December: Lötschberg tunnel vision.

On Jane and Tim’s train it suddenly goes dark. But then Jane’s face lights up: “The beauty of tunnels is that you can’t help but concentrate on what’s ahead of you.”. “You and your philosophising”, Tim rolls his eyes, “it looks dark ahead to me.”. “At least when it’s dark I don’t have to see your grimaces”, Jane says. “And I have every reason to be optimistic: I can already see the light at the end of the Lötschberg Tunnel.”

So now it’s high time for…

88% of you chose: …some Christmas spirit.

21. December: A picture-perfect tree.

Jane and Tim stand on Zurich station concourse admiring the huge Christmas tree. “I hope I never have to decorate it”, says Tim. As she draws the tree in her notebook, Jane says: “Did you know that Zürich HB is named after HB pencils?” Tim draws a blank. “I thought it was Hauptbahnhof,” he mutters to himself.

Then he adds: “I don’t feel like drawing, but I could do with some…

71% of you chose: …good food.”

22. December: A feast in the train restaurant.

In the train restaurant Jane gobbles down her cheese and sausage salad as if she were rushing not to miss her stop. Tim looks at her aghast: “You won’t cheese me off however you eat that salad. But it certainly doesn’t look very festive.” But as soon as Tim gets his snack platter, he also tucks into it as if it were a Christmas turkey. Jane beams: “Meals on wheels are particularly tasty – especially on a smooth SBB Intercity.”

But then she gets a fright:

53% of you chose: I can’t find my lovely notebook!

23. December: The notebook’s gone!

Jane takes fright: “My notebook’s gone!” “Can’t be,” says Tim. “It is!”, she cries, “this is worse than any cancelled train! I feel cut off more than any missed connection! More pain in my heart than in any peak-time crush!” Tim starts to laugh: “So what’s that in your hand?” Jane looks down and sees... the notebook. Now she also loosens up and giggles: “Note to self: less daydreaming.”

What do they treat themselves to at the end of a long day?

52% of you chose: …a first-class upgrade.

24. December: Next stop: home.

“First class really is... first class!”, Tim says. Jane jumps: “Goodness brake-cious! It’s the 24th already! How odd: we’ve ditched the plane for the train, but time still flies. We should head home.” She wanted to write down a positive feeling in her notebook – e.g. “thrilling anticipation” – but right now she can’t help but feel stressed. Tim says: “Take it easy.” But that train has left the station. 

Tim and Jane are nearing their journey’s end. Has Jane managed to make Tim feel Christmassy?

87% of you chose: Yes, he’s feeling Christmassy as never before!

Arrival at the terminus.

Jane and Tim head back to the station where their Advent-ure started. She’s merrier than ever before, and he also seems to have finally got into the Christmas spirit: “Pretty long, but pretty special”, says Jane, “a global voyage without leaving Switzerland. And you still haven’t had the best of it. I’ve got a gift for you.”

“Yeah, sure, the gift was spending time with you!”

“No, I really mean it.” Jane passes Tim a small parcel, wrapped rather rough and readily in tissue paper, with a little message scribbled on it: Wishing you a railway-ly very merry Christmas, Jane. 

Tim unwraps it eagerly: the notebook! He feels somewhat disappointed… he’s seen the notebook before. But when he opens it, his face lights up like a signal. Jane has put so much effort into it: the book is full of sketches, quotes, tickets from the places they visited glued in and – most importantly – the feelings they experienced each step of the way. It covers everything from “sceptical” to “merry” to “thankful”.

Tim is moved to tears. “Wow, this journey wasn’t just an emotional rollercoaster ride. It was a sensational excursion by special event train. A journey by rack-and-pinion over the mountains of the soul. A double-decker tour of happiness.” “Just don’t go over the top,” Jane quips. But the brakes are off for normally tight-lipped Tim: “You were right: there is something to be excited about!” In this moment, Tim feels the greatest emotion of all: love. So it’s true: Christmas is about love. He gives Jane a gentle kiss on the cheek out of gratitude. And it seems miracles do happen after all: smart, quick-witted Jane is lost for words – something Tim could never have imagined. 

Suddenly, Tim and Jane are overwhelmed by joy and their eyes light up like Christmas trees. Just like the good old days. The magic of Christmas is back! 

So our terminus is not the end of the line for Tim and Jane but a very happy ending to their tale. 

The author of the story.

This year’s Advent story was created by Kilian Ziegler – Swiss slam poet extraordinaire. He charms all his audiences with his witty verbal acrobatics and unmistakable sense of humour. 

The original German text was adapted into English by the SBB language service.