Why is hearing a bell from Santa's sleigh so important?

Each night before bed Sarah and I read to our son, Owen. This night he chose “The Polar Express,” the modern Christmas classic that takes a child, who is on the brink of losing his faith, and whisks him to the North Pole on an express train.

The last page features a black and white drawing — a lone bell from Santa’s sleigh. According to the book, believers and nonbelievers can be divided into their camps by one simple fact: When a bell from Santa’s sleigh is shaken, believers can hear it ring. But as people age, fewer and fewer can. In the protagonist’s family of four, he is the only one who remains a believer into adulthood.

“How come the boy's parents and sister couldn't hear the bell?” Owen asked. When I heard that question coming from my 5 year old, my heart dropped into my stomach.

“When people get older, they mostly think about going to work and coming home and going back to work,” I said. “They don’t use their imaginations as much, and you need your imagination to hear the bell.”

“What’s imagination?”

“You know when you are playing Spiderman and you are having fun pretending that he's flying through the air? That's your imagination,” I said.

“Can you hear the bell?” “Yes.”

“How come you can hear the bell?”

I could tell by his follow-up questions that this was an important conversation to my son. I struggled for the best answer I could muster. “Because I have poetry and music,” I said.

I wanted to give him a real nugget, a bit of wisdom that he could carry with him through the years and I was worried that my answer fell short. That has to be one of the trickiest parts of parenting. By “poetry and music” I meant that I regularly exercise my imagination. It’s something that anyone can do with whatever hobbies make them happy. But many of us forget to make it a priority in the daily grind.

“When I get older will you teach me how to do that? Will you teach me poetry and music?” he asked.

I was so touched by his question. I said I would, and of course I've already started. But really, he wasn’t asking me to teach him how to write poetry or play instruments. He was asking me to help him safeguard his imagination and to help him stay as cheery as people seem to be during the holidays.

In the quiet of his bedroom, the Disney characters that line his walls were now enveloped by the dark.
There are some stories we tell children that we know are important, even if we don't know what they mean. Why is hearing Santa's sleigh bell so important?

For those who will soon be putting out cookies and milk and listening for reindeer on the roof there are still times when every- one has an equal shot at being good and having their dreams come true.

I held his hand and watched him fall asleep. Then one last thought occurred to me. Out of all of the animals on Earth, human children need their parents the most and their development takes the longest. But childhood is still too brief.

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