Listening for Santa’s Sleigh Bells

A child gives Santa a gift during an annual party.
A child gives Santa a gift during an annual party.

By Judy Berman

This time of year, right around Christmas, I step into a time warp to a place back home in Central New York.

It is the first snowfall. Streetlights highlight the stark whiteness. Dave, our girls and I drive around the neighborhood to see how the houses are decked out. One neighbor has a huge snow dragon in his front yard, and part of it is dyed green. Other homes look like the Griswalds’ – a light show consuming every inch of their home.

I love it when the snowflakes are huge, white crystals like the detergent Ivory Snow. Or, when the snow is like butter and just slides off the top of your car with one gentle push.

But, now, at nightfall, the snow is like granular sugar. You can tell it is cold just by how the snow crunches underfoot. Like that scene in the 2004 film, “The Polar Express,” where a young boy is beginning to look for signs to confirm Santa’s presence.

It’s that moment that parents like Shona dread. She suspects her child is beginning to question the existence of that widely talked about, but rarely sighted jolly old elf. In a letter to Santa, her daughter asks how he can deliver so many presents in such a short span.

Shona's daughter writes to Santa
Shona’s daughter writes to Santa

Never mind more probing interrogation such as: How can Santa get into Jimmy’s house when they don’t have a chimney? How does he get up the elevator in the high-rise? How can the sleigh fly if it’s weighted down by so many presents? They’ve heard the naysayers.

Still, like the boy in the story, many don’t want to rush to judgment. They just want reassurances.

“On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly on my bed. I did not rustle the sheets. I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound – a sound a friend told me I’d never hear – the ringing bells of Santa’s sleigh,” wrote author Chris Van Allsburg in “The Polar Express.”

Well, he does hear a sound. But it’s not the gentle ringing of a bell. It’s the “sounds of hissing steam and squeaking metal. I saw a train standing perfectly still in front of my house.”

He ran up to the train. When the conductor said it was the Polar Express, the boy clambered aboard. By the time the boy returns home, any nagging doubts he had have been answered.

I love the scene where the boy realizes he could have any gift in the world. It reminds me when my brother, Hank, was about 3. Hank asked for only three things for Christmas: Golden Books, Chiclets and Sun Maid Raisins. He was delighted to find them under the tree Christmas morning.

The little boy in the book and the movie also was ecstatic to discover he got the gift he thought he lost: a beautiful-sounding silver bell that fell from Santa’s sleigh. It’s a bell that can only be heard by those who truly believe.

We have a copy of that bell. The kid in all of us wants to believe in magical moments and a time of innocence.

I shake the bell, and smile when I hear its melodic ringing.

Santa greets children in Singapore.
When Jolly Old Saint Nick is busy, his helpers step in. Chief Warrant Officer Marc Lefebvre dressed as Santa to greet children in Singapore.

Movie clip: The Polar Express – A boy visits the North Pole as he seeks answers about Santa and the magic of Christmas.   

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Main Photo – Santa – A child gives Santa a gift during the annual 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Christmas Party. Taken Dec. 8, 2010 at the Marston Pavilion, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Photo – Santa – letter from Shona’s daughter. Dec. 2012

Photo – Santa greets children – When Jolly Old Saint Nick is busy, his helpers step in. In Singapore, Chief Warrant Officer Marc Lefebvre dressed as Santa and greeted children at Singapore’s Child at Street 11 Care Center. Here, Sailors and Marines from the USS Makin Island (LHD8) give gifts to children as part of a community service project. (Dec. 22, 2011)

  1. Hey, I love big fat snowflakes, too– they’re the best kind! Snow that slides off the car with one gentle push?? Bring it on!! I can see we’re on the same fluffy white wavelength here!!

    A wonderfully evocative post, Judy. My brother and I used to do a “Christmas Jog” every year– circle around the perimeter of Cooperstown, NY, checking out all the lights, try to hit as many streets as we could. The town was just the right size– you could do it all on foot. And we didn’t have computers back then to distract us and keep us inside!!

    I’m ringing a bell for you here– Merry Christmas, all aboard The Earth Rider Express!! : )

    1. By golly, Mark. I do hear that bell ringing. Count me as a true believer.

      Your jog sounds ambitious and de-“light”-fully rewarding. Before Christmas, we’d drive around our neighborhood and to Onondaga Lake Park to see its wonderful light display.

      Thank you for the compliment. When I knew we were going to move to Florida, I tried to cram all the sights and sounds of the seasons in. Have a very Merry Christmas, my friend.

      1. We’ll be driving by Onondaga Lake Park on the Thruway on our way to visit my wife’s mom in Rochester. Love those lights! I shall think of you and smile. Merry Christmas, Judy!! : )

  2. My daughter just started teaching in September, and she’s reading The Polar Express to her third-grade class.

    Wonderful post, Judy. Merry Christmas!

    1. I love The Polar Express and I’ll bet your daughter’s students do as well. I bought the book when our grandkids were younger. I love the illustrations and the story.

      Thank you, Charles. Your visits are a real pleasure. Merry Christmas.

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