We gather around with our kids for a Christmas tale after the tree is brought into the house. Last year’s lights, tested and untangled, then strung on the fragrant boughs add an air of magic. Their twinkle harkens us to a place where it’s easy to imagine elves boxing toys to be delivered by a team of flying reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh around the globe on a night of the year when belief makes all good things possible.
When a child believes, dreams can begin. As parents we guide and foster those wishes. A child learns a world where merit has purpose and promise. Watch a small child hang a bell for the first time on an evergreen branch and you instinctively understand how belief in one’s self can be the first positive step in a series of more.
As parents, we are the first ones who give these gifts of self-confidence. Children learn early on that believing in the spirit of giving, also means trusting in love and forgiveness, both for the self and for others. Life is not perfect. There will be uncertainty. There will be failures. But striving to know can be a great driver of truth and innovation. And not giving up can make all the difference, starting with the small things. A child takes a first step and even though they may fall, we cheer them to stand and try again. That willingness to believe and keep on going adds a richness of meaning to a child’s life.
“The Polar Express” written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, a story about believing, was given to our young kids by their grandfather who always had a twinkle in his eye. A storyteller and a tinkerer, he taught me to believe in myself and to trust in the truth as I was growing up and sometimes those lessons were hard. Though he’s been gone since our first grandchild was only a few months old, I can still hear his words, fair and honest.
The balance of truth and believing is a gift which every child can develop. Especially when it seems all is lost. At first a skinned knee or hurt feelings, and later when they confront bigger challenges in life.
It’s probably why the story of a young boy venturing by steam engine late Christmas eve with children from all over the world to receive the “first gift” from Santa at the North Pole resonates. His wish for a sleigh bell from a reindeer harness is granted, but the real gift is the lesson that it’s easy to lose belief in things good, like a bell slips through a hole in a pocket, whenever an unfortunate thing happens. When it does, we must look a little closer. We must believe.
Nuanced, simple sentences coupled with magical illustrations, for which Allsburg won a Caldecott medal, keep a young child’s attention.
Each Christmas, since my father presented the book to his grandkids, it’s been opened and explored many times. Now his great grandchildren are sitting on my lap and turning the pages which take them from a Christmas treed living room to wolves in a forest to winding up mountain tops, the train’s windows strung like lanterns as it chugs to a steamy stop amidst a bricked city trimmed in festive bulbs. The torn cover recalls the first “readers” a generation ago who turned the pages with vigor and a much younger mom making repairs with her much younger children.
The holidays are a wonderful time for kids. It can be a hectic time for parents. I remember those late-night Christmas Eves tucking the kids into bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, and feeling exhausted just minutes after the cookies and milk were left on the kitchen table for a kind visitor in red velvet.
Still, it’s our belief in all the possible good that can come from all those dreams swirling through all those young minds. The possibilities are beautiful. Kids naturally see the season through a unique lens of whimsy, folklore, love and innocence. When Christmastime is upon us the spirit of giving and believing are the small miracles which can lead to bigger ones. And even the tinkling jingle of one tiny bell promises that the world can be a more wondrous place when we believe it is possible.
Bonnie Toomey’s stories, essays and poems have been featured in Baystateparent Magazine, New Hampshire Parents Magazine, Baystate Echo, Penwood Review, and Solace in a Book. She worked as an adjunct at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she earned a master’s degree in literacy. She writes about life in the 21st century and lives in New Hampshire with her husband. Learn more at www.thedeepbeautybook.com/writers-2/bonnie-j-toomey.