Chris Van Allsburg
The Polar Express
I can remember vividly a Christmas Eve when I was about five years old. Just like the line from the film The Polar Express, "On Christmas Eve many years ago I laid quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets, I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound I was afraid I'd never hear: the sound of Santa's sleigh bells." I remember just how it felt, to lie so quiet and still, hoping and hoping I would hear those bells ringing. And... I did! Lying there in bed, in the very first house I can remember living in, I swore I heard sleigh bells. Today all I can say is that I swear I heard what it was that I wanted to hear.
Though it wasn't long after that that I stopped believing in Santa (which occurred after I cleverly decided to compare my Mom's handwriting on a check to the handwriting in a card from "Santa"...), I'll never forget that night when I believed so much that I heard those sleigh bells. It's one of the few times in my life that I've believed that much, that honestly, and that faithfully. Though I don't believe in that type of Christmas magic anymore, I do believe there is magic in Christmas. However, it's something I don't think, over the years, I've always believed in.
Like most people, I've had my good holidays and my bad. I've had the years I was super into and the years I thought to myself, "Why in the world do we still do this every single year?" Christmas is one of those things that, though it can bring a lot of happiness, it almost always brings a lot of stress. There are events to attend, packages to wrap. There are gifts to make and errands to run. It can be really overwhelming to suddenly be faced with this time of the year when you have a million extra things to do. And don't even get me started on what it's like to be alone at Christmas. Total bummer. Let's face it -- Christmas can be rough. But, year after year, so many of us keep doing it. We keep wrapping the gifts and singing the songs and telling the same silly stories over and over again. We love it. Why? Because we believe.
We believe there's something completely and utterly magical about Christmas. We believe in Christmas miracles, in Christmas stories. We believe that even the same ratty old decorations are beautiful. We believe that the same verses sung over and over again can still sound magical. We believe in glitter and tinsel and the idea that maybe -- just maybe -- this will be the very best Christmas of all. Sometimes it seems like a miracle in and of itself that we believe all of this, especially as adults. It's one thing for children, in their sweet innocence, to see the magic in Christmas, but, for us adults it can be a little bit harder. Yet we still do it. We still, after all of these years -- the good Christmases and the bad, the disastrous holidays and the magical ones -- believe.
When I think about that night, so many years ago, when I was lying in bed and listening so hard for Santa's sleigh, I'm amazed. I'm amazed that my mind could play such tricks on me. And I'm even more amazed that, looking back on it, I'm actually happy that my mind did that. Normally I'd be against thinking logically, especially when thinking about myself in a critical stage of development as I was at the age of five, but, in this case, magic trumps logic. When it comes to Christmas, especially to a childhood Christmas, believing wins out over rationalizing every single time.
There have been moments in my life when I've reflected on that Christmas and thought to myself, "What an idiot I was! How could I really have thought I heard sleigh bells!?" I realize now that that reaction was not anger at myself, but fear -- fear that I really could believe in something so much that I could create it in my mind. This fear of believing in something so fiercely that I can transform it into a reality has held me back for many years. I've spent a long, long time being afraid of believing. I've spent years afraid to believe in myself, afraid to believe in others, afraid to believe in ideas that I knew could be made real.
This year I've finally begun to get a little bit of that five-year-old self back. This year I've once again begun believing. While I may not be lying in bed imagining sleigh bells, I'm still that same little girl, flat on her back, believing in something so much that she makes it a reality. I may not believe in Santa, but this year I've discovered that I still believe in myself. It's been a crazy, whirlwind of a year, but I've come to find what I always knew to be true... There is still, and always will be, great beauty in believing.