The Polar Express – Do you hear the bells ringing?
By Lisa Nicklanovich
The description inscribed on the book jacket of the beloved holiday book The Polar Express cannot be said better: “A young boy, lying awake one Christmas Eve, is welcomed aboard a magical train to the North Pole. The Polar Express makes its way through dark forests, over tall mountains, and across a barren desert of ice, to the city atop the world, where the boy will make his Christmas wish. This is a story for all who believe in the spirit of Christmas and those who treasure the sound of a reindeer’s silver bell.”
Written and beautifully illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express is a Caldecott Medal winner and part of many family’s holiday traditions since it was published in 1986. The book was also made into an animated feature film starring Tom Hanks in 2004. For some, it just isn’t the holidays without the book being taken out with the other holiday decorations and the movie playing while Christmas dinner is being prepared (groans from the grown kids aside).
The setting of the book is based on Van Allsburg’s childhood home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Pere Marquette 1225 train, now in Owosso, Michigan, was the inspiration for the story. As a child, Van Allsburg played on the engine when it was on display, and to him, the number 1225 meant December 25, Christmas Day. The real 1225 train’s different locomotive sounds were recorded and used in the movie. While the book and film have the same premise, the film takes the story beyond the pages of the book.
The journey the young boy takes on The Polar Express train to the North Pole, in the film version, is filled with delight and trepidation, hot chocolate and a lost train ticket.
After arriving at the North Pole, the children see thousands of elves, and the boy is picked to receive the first gift of Christmas. The boy chooses a silver bell from the harness of one of Santa’s reindeer as his gift, a “sign” of the magic of Christmas. The beautiful sound of the bell can only be heard by those who truly believe. Read the delightful book or watch the magical movie to learn (if you don’t already know) what happens to the bell and the boy.
To bring this story to life, you can ride The Polar Express train at the Colorado Railroad Museum. Characters from the story perform and the ride includes hot chocolate and cookies. Santa makes an appearance at the North Pole and gives out the first gift of Christmas. At press time, there were tickets still available to purchase for rides in December. For more information, visit https://coloradorailroadmuseum.org/polar-express/.