The anticipation of Christmas morning brings a joy all of its own. Gifts under the tree bring a pleasure for children of all ages. And, there is something about the legend of the man who visits during the night on Christmas Eve. A story exquistly written and illustrated titled The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg has more to share than the journey to the North Pole. He shares the message of hope.
The question is: How can we foster the understanding of hope through a story about a boy and Santa? What is the connection between this and the remembrance of Christ?
The answer is: We can build our children’s understanding through conversation. We take what we know, feel, and believe and transfer that to another. In conversation we can use examples of how we experience hope and belief in life.
This is what you know:
- Children all around believe in Santa.
- Children all around do not believe in Santa.
- The American culture promotes a belief in Santa.
- Christmas is a day of remembrance for the birth of Christ.
- Christmas is a time in which people share gifts.
- Christmas is a time when there is both happiness and sadness.
- Children are asked to take steps of faith.
- All children have a journey, a train ride of experience with challenges along the way.
- Many people are looking for hope.
- Many people already have hope.
How can you take the story The Polar Express and teach the value of hope?
- You sit with your child who is watching the movie, or read to them from the illustrated book.
- You pay attention to the details of Chris Van Allsburg’s intent.
- You engage your child in a discussion.
What kind of questions can you ask your child? First, be amazed at your child’s responses. Encourage your child to share their ideas with simple prompts first and extend the questioning one step further to help them grow.
- Where is the North Pole? What might you find there?
- What do the children experience on the train?
- What kinds of children are on the train?
- What emotions are the children expressing?
- What do you hope for?
- Have you ever experienced disappointment?
- What can you do to help you through your disappointment?
- Who or what do you have hope in? (notice this is different than hope for) Who or what do you have confidence in? (an alternative phrasing)
- Why do we celebrate Christmas?
- Do you know of some one who does not have hope?
- What can you do to help them discover the joy of Christmas?
There lies a paradox between the legend of Santa and the historical birth of Christ. Christ was born in a poor financial setting and the American culture’s Santa is in a setting of financial abundance. This is only one layer of the stories, however. Another layer is the layer of hope and faith. In the story Polar Express there is a hope and with hope also comes doubt. With effective communication we can move through those times of doubt and disappointment. Children need to learn how to express themselves in different ways. Christmas is also the time of year of when people are more sensitive to the words spoken about Christ. There is a hope in the promises of Christ and there is also doubt concerning Christ’s presence. As a parent I feel strongly that effective communication between me and my children is essential to teach them about hope. In order to have these conversations, value clarification must occur throughout the different seasons of one’s life. The questions above are a starting place. The story Polar Express is a tool to jump start the conversation. My challenge to you is to know who or what you put your hope in and then share this with a friend or child.