Children's Books

Storytime Feature: “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsberg

“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”

Happy First Day of Winter Soltice! Christmas is just four days away, and I don’t know about you, but the hustle and bustle of all the to-dos seem to have caught up with me today. A feeling of anxiety was spinning about my head and tension seemed to take over my mind and body. I decided to listen to that signal as a cue to slow down. I laid down on the bed, turned on a 10 minute guided meditation, did some deep belly breathing, and just relaxed. The difference in how I felt afterwards was night and day! Sometimes just taking a little break when those internal temperatures start to rise is all we need to get back to center.

After I finished my meditation, I decided to cozy up with one of my favorite holiday children’s books: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsberg. This is the same copy from my childhood that I have fond memories of reading. In that same stillness that lingered from the mindfulness exercise, I read the story with fresh eyes and an open heart.

The soft, dream-like illustrations looked like hazy childhood memories that have become fuzzy with time. Turning the pages of this book and the faint smell of old paper that lingered in the air took me back. I had forgotten the part about the children on the train drinking “hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars” and eating “candies with nougat centers as white as snow.” That imagery made me hungry for a piping hot cup of chocolate!

Do you remember the wonder of Christmases past or those of your childhood? Do you remember the excitement of Christmas Eve and wondering if you’d catch a glimpse of the man in the big red suit? I remember putting out a plate of gingerbread cookies and milk, wondering if they would be gone by the next morning — and they always were, accompanied by a thank you note by Santa himself. I remember the Christmas tree lit up and decorated with traditional German ornaments my family had collected from our days in the military overseas.

I remember waking up, trembling with excitement, rushing upstairs to see the presents splayed out around the tree so you could hardly see the carpet. I remember taking turns from youngest to oldest, opening one present at a time, sharing in the joy of giving and receiving. I remember my Dad’s video camera on the tripod in the corner of the room recording the opening of gifts to look back on down the road. I remember the feeling of gratitude, the feeling of love. I had forgotten how magical those experiences were. All it takes is a moment of quiet reflection to bring it all back.

Like the child in this story explains, the sound of the bell can sometimes grow faint or disappear altogether when we get older. Grief and loss can make it quieter. Depression can make it hard to hear. Sometimes the trials of this life can put it to silence altogether. This story was a reminder of the power of believing to rekindle faith in that which we cannot see. For me, that means hope in brighter days to come. Hope in God’s promises. Hope in blessings yet to unfold. I took a silver jingle bell off the Christmas tree and listened to the sound it made. Does it still ring for you? May that gentle sound serve as a reminder for the joy to be found in the small and simple things of this Christmas season!

Love & Light,

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