One of our favorite Christmas books is the award-winning The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. We also love the extraordinary animated movie of the same name. It’s the story of a skeptical boy at the beginning of adolescence who learns the power of belief when he takes a magical train ride to the North Pole. There he meets Santa (“Mr. C.”) who grants him the “first gift of Christmas,” a bell from Santa’s sleigh.


Given the beauty and the positive theme of the book and movie, it was disconcerting and troubling on a recent trip to see a criticism of The Polar Express on a sign outside a fundamentalist church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “The first gift of Christmas was a child,” read the message. I’m sure if an emoticon had been available to put up, it would have been a shouting face expressing disapproval or even anger. And if italics could have been included, the word “child” would have been so emphasized.


What kind of believers have to put down a work for children, whether The Polar Express or some other, to make their point? They must be terribly insecure in their faith! And how is it that they saw in the book and movie a threat to Christianity, another front or issue in the alleged “war on Christmas” (the totally bogus invention of the Religious Right)? The author’s and screenwriter’s subject was not the biblical Christmas story at all. In fact, it had to do only with one boy’s journey back to belief and the embrace of the true spirit of the season at one particular Christmas. Surely a heart-warming and uplifting message for all people!


The Bible and the wonderful story of the first Christmas point us to our Savior, and the gift of the first Christmas was a child. Indeed, each year he is born in us. That truth is not diminished or rendered false by other stories or approaches to the season.


Christians who live with joy and hope and regard others with good will need not be threatened by truth and beauty whatever its source, whether a children’s tale or someone of another faith or no faith at all. The God of the Bible, the God whom the Child of Bethlehem reveals to us, is so big that all truth is his truth, all beauty his beauty. It’s a shame that some of those who consider themselves defenders of the faith deny and/or forget that all too often.


© 2009 Tom Cheatham