[Dumb Movies] The Polar Express

the-polar-express-(2004)Every year, and I mean every year, I hear the same argument start sometime in October or November. It used to just be a lot of “Keep the Christ in Christmas!” shouting. Now, people are angry over cups that don’t have snowflakes and gingerbread men on them. They don’t understand that Xmas is the correct Greek shorthand for Christmas, and isn’t sacrilegious at all. They even go so far as to demonize other holidays that occur near Christmas as some sort of usurper upstarts, because they either forgot or never learned that Christmas is on December 25th because the early church wanted to stop people from celebrating the much more popular Roman holiday The Feast of the Unconquered Sun, which had occupied the date for centuries. People are angry about words, images, plays, and songs. I’m angry, too.

I’m angry that when I greet people with a Merry Christmas, certain people will nod in approval, as if I have done something correct rather than something kind. I’m angry that people tell me what they have contributed to charity this year, as if it’s noble rather than something that is required of all people with enough to give. I’m angry that people use this time of year especially to pervert words like kindness when they mean pity or joy when they mean luxury. I’m angry that I’m angry. I’m angry that I do all these things that make me angry, too.

I used to believe in something. At least, I think I did. I believed in the magic. I believed that Christmas was the best holiday because of presents and food and movies and music and having a break from school. I used to believe in something. Then, sometime when I was ten or twelve or somewhere around there, I started to see the silver tarnish. The beautiful wrapping paper started to tear, and I saw what was underneath. It was a holiday made of half-truths and knowing winks. I was being fooled, and I couldn’t say anything because it would mean that the holiday where I got to eat as much as I wanted, the holiday where I got presents might be ruined. I realized that the magic was fragile.

In The Polar Express, this doubt is represented by an inability to hear Santa’s sleigh-bells. The hero of the story, a boy whose name we never learn, struggles with his doubt, fearing that, should he ask his parents about the nature of Christmas, it would mean an end to the magic. Throughout the story, he encounters representations of those traits that become grating when the magic loses its luster, childish avarice and starry-eyed excitement, and he also encounters the traits he most fears taking over, depression and cynicism.

Near the end of the film, where the boy is surrounded by true believers, he looks up to see the sleigh-bells being rung and everyone around him saying how beautiful they sounded. He could not hear them. A bell breaks off and comes rolling toward him. The boy picks it up and rings it but hears nothing. This is the moment that a fun family film becomes a great film, one that I love. The boy, at the edge of tears, closes his eyes and, with the pain of growing up in his voice, whispers, “I believe. I believe.” With that, he rings the bell again. The others were right. The sound is beautiful.

I had spent so much time worrying that I would do or say or think the wrong thing, and that would shatter the fragile magic. What I failed to realize was that, while I focused on myself, on my thoughts and my actions, the magic had already been broken. But, much like a stone table in another novel about the true meaning of Christmas, beneath the broken surface of the magic I had relied on for so many years, there was a deeper magic. It was a magic that could not be bought or sold. It wasn’t encountered while eating or singing carols. It was and is the gift of peace.

Maybe the reason that what we perceive as the magic of Christmas fades to doubt over the years is because we can’t find that magic in food or presents or other people or anything as simple as that. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to get angry. It’s easy to point fingers at the ones who you think are attacking your holiday. It’s easy for me to point fingers at people I think are missing the point of Christmas. It’s easy to be angry. It’s hard to feel peace. It’s hard to understand that freedom is admitting you don’t have or need control. It’s hard to accept that the way I feel about people who proclaim their righteousness is just as self-righteous as their Facebook posts. It’s hard to admit that we can’t take Christ out of Christmas, because we didn’t put him in it. So, instead of admitting that the magic doesn’t need our protection, we begin to doubt its very existence. One by one, we fall away.

There’s a line at the very end of The Polar Express spoken by the narrator after the boy shares his bell with his sister and parents. His sister, Sarah, hears it, but his parents don’t and assume the bell is broken.

“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

On Christmas day, I celebrate the gift I was given. It was not a gift in name only. It was a true gift. It was a gift that I couldn’t buy myself. It was the gift of deep magic, of peace, of being known. It was the gift of love in the face of my self-righteousness. It was the gift of never being alone again, not in this life and not after. Yet, even still, with all of my self-assurance, I still find myself often holding the bell to my ear, closing my eyes, and, just before ringing it, whispering the only two words that ever truly mattered: I believe.

[Dumb Movies] Ernest Saves Christmas

Ernest_Saves_Christmas_PosterI struggle to feel happy during the Christmas season. I know that’s not exactly a radical statement. Most people have issues with one thing or another during the holiday. Maybe your family isn’t awesome to be around. Maybe your spouse’s family is terrible. Maybe you don’t have a family. There are many other common issues. It’s a tough time. For me, I’m single (ladies?), and Christmas shines a huge light on that fact. I don’t get questions like, “When are you going to find a girlfriend?” or the like. Nobody asks. I don’t mind. Everyone in my family is married except for me, and I’m happy for all of them. Most of my friends are married. I’m happy for them, too, except for Harrison and Melanie who rub their happiness in everyone’s faces. They can burn in Hell. I’m not bitter, though. I just haven’t met the right person or anime bodypillow.

Man marries cushion

I’m also fat. Not dying of a heart attack tomorrow fat, but fat nonetheless. Normally, I can ignore it, eat a salad, and pretend a short-haired Natalie Portman would date me. During the holidays, I’m given no opportunity to forget the fatness. Everyone has collectively decided that Christmas is the time to force loaves of sugar bread on everyone else. I don’t want your sugar bread. I want short-haired Natalie Portman! I can’t say no, though. It’s all there seems to be to eat. From Thanksgiving until New Years, it’s all sugar bread topped with sugar milk. Even the ham comes with sugar sauce, and every bloating bite I take is a reminder that I will be alone forever, unless I meet the right person or anime bodypillow.


In this lonely, diabetic time, I keep my spirits up by watching Christmas movies. That’s not true at all. I keep my spirits up by being hilarious and awesome, but it’s a good segue into talking about Christmas movies. It is true that I watch a lot of Christmas movies, though. I have several favorites, a few of which I’ll talk about this month. The one I’m writing about today, Ernest Saves Christmas, doesn’t rank as high as The Muppet Christmas Carol or Polar Express do on my list, but it’s still a great one.

Ernest Saves Christmas doesn’t really have a great message, like a lot of other Christmas movies. It isn’t wistful or dramatic. It’s not well shot, nor is it well acted by most of the cast. The only decent performance is by Jim Varney who plays Ernest. Maybe that’s why I like it. It’s a Christmas movie that doesn’t follow any of the guidelines of a Christmas movie. It doesn’t get too preachy or heavy handed. It’s just really, really funny.

There are two scenes that really exemplify the greatness of this Christmas movie, and neither is about Christmas. Neither involves the Jim Varney playing the Ernest character, either, at that. The first scene involves Ernest trying to find the location of another character. He dresses up as Varney’s Auntie Nelda character. Before I recently rewatched this movie, I had forgotten that this scene was in Ernest Saves Christmas. It has nothing to do with Christmas, doesn’t involve any other characters, and barely moves the plot. In spite of that, it exemplifies the mood of this movie where a scene doesn’t have to make sense to fit in, as long as it’s funny. The line that kills me is “I’ll be dead soon.”

The other scene that makes this movie for me is when Ernest is trying to sneak Santa into a movie studio for reasons that only make sense if you watch the movie. In order to get by the gate guard, Varney plays a snake farmer. Or is it snake rancher? Do you ranch snakes? He plays a snake rancher who’s delivering poisonous snakes to a horror movie. As funny as the majority of the scene is, the best part is the final few seconds where he begins singing the classic hymn Rock of Ages.

Did you know that, on a dark night, you can see the flicker of a candle flame up to about 30 miles away? This month, I planned to talk about four Christmas movies off my long list of favorites. Ernest Saves Christmas isn’t in the top ten, but it’s still a great movie to get you into the spirit of Christmas, if only because the spirit of Christmas isn’t just about feeling grateful. It’s not just love and kindness. Christmas is also about laughter. For me, a big part of the Christmas spirit involves looking at my life, my singleness, my fatitude and finding the joke in it. That’s what Christmas is, seeing the hopeful flicker of light in the darkness. If that doesn’t fill you with laughter, then you’re dead inside.