I think what gets me most this time of year is the nostalgia. We all have traditions this time of year, regardless of our faith and beliefs.
Most of us all wrote at least one letter to Santa. We all filled a glass of milk, and left out some of our mom’s homemade Christmas cookies. We all went to bed, barely able to sleep. Some of us may have even woken up in the middle of the night to see if the cookies and milk had been eaten. I wrote letters to Santa (Santa Claus, North Pole, HOH OHO) and I also left letters by the milk and cookies. Which Santa always wrote back to. My mom has kept most of the letters – both to and from Santa – in her Hilary Shrine (not an actual shrine, more like a large box filled with every single craft I ever made).
Certain movies and books also big traditions for me. Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch have been favourites for me from my earliest memories. And one book will always remain classic to me. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Written in 1985 (GREAT year), it has become a classic Christmas story for many children. Van Allsburg is a master at children’s books, and this one is no exception. The story in a nutshell is a boy in bed at Christmas Eve, who boards a magical train (called The Polar Express) that takes him on a journey to the North Pole. While there, the boy is picked by Santa to receive the first gift of Christmas, which could be anything in the world and he chooses a silver bell from Santa’s sleigh.
My favourite quote from the book is this:
“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.”
Now my dad, the replier to my Christmas Eve Santa letters, knew how much that book and story meant to me. At the time we were living on an acreage near Whitecourt, Alberta, so he went to one of our neighbours who gave (horse, not reindeer) sleigh rides at Christmas, and asked for a bell off his sleigh. That Christmas Day, in addition to the thrill of seeing the milk and cookies gone, and a handwritten reply letter from Santa, there was a bell sitting on the crumb-covered plate.
My days of believing in Santa are long since passed, but my sleigh bell remains the best gift I’ve ever received at Christmas time. When I was young, the bell symbolized the magic of Santa, the innocence of youth, and the joy of exchanging gifts with loved ones. As an adult, that bell has come to represent love for family and friends. Without a doubt, it is one of my most treasured possessions.
And the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.
(Silver Bells has been covered by so many artists, I’m not going to list every singer who has sung it. Merry Christmas! )