I imagine stepping from the warm, love-filled house into the deep, silent dark of a dead winter’s night. The cold air is quiet. The street lights at precisely midnight Christmas Eve – make the thick snow shine a deep, mystical blue.
I will take this walk in order to fulfill a silly kind of tradition. You see, I have taken a Christmas Eve-ning’s walk every Christmas Eve of my adult life. No matter where I have found myself, I have walked out into this winter’s night in order to . . .well . . I’ve come to hear Santa’s sleigh bells. But don’t laugh, because, do you know the most remarkable thing? On every one of my long winter’s walks I have heard those sleigh bells! I’m not making this up! Listen: [bells] Sound like sleigh bells to you? Me too.
Every Christmas Eve I have walked out into the night. Once, long ago, I sauntered up a lonely Oregon beach. Behind me an entire Pacific Northwest forest of “Old Tannenbaums” rose from the black, rocky shore. To my west, the dark, open, lonely sea spoke to me of power, far greater than all.
Then there were the many Christmas Eve’s of my life that I spent strolling the plaza in old Santa Fe. The *luminarios* lined the town’s central plaza in golden paths of candle-light. The glowing paper-bags topped every adobe wall around the pretty plaza. . . Santa Fe: the city of Holy Faith.
And – on every one of these Christmas Eve walks – [bells] – that’s right: I have heard sleigh bells.
For many years now, Vermont has been my home. So each Christmas Eve I walk and listen for how the hillsides cradle the bells¿ sharp echo in snowy softness. With nearly each [bells 2x] of my steps [bells] I sound the bells.
There¿s mystery on Christmas Eve. All over this quaint Vermont town children will be fast asleep while sugarplums dance – or, are on the edge of sleep – their firm resolve to stay awake being melted by the sleepy blanket of a mother’s warm embrace. It is my hope some child will hear my bells and believe in miracles.
Every Christmas Eve I become one of Santa’s helpers. I walk out into the beautiful night and a set of sleigh bells shakes with nearly every step. Call me a shameless sower of mysterious seeds of belief. For what else is there in our lives – no matter what our beliefs – what else is there but hope that the young shall go forth with love in their hearts?
On a Christmas Eve, long ago, a young boy sat on the edge of his bed, sleepless. I was six years old, and I had discovered doubt. Yes, I pondered the existence of a jolly old elf, but also the recent passing of my grandfather had taught me about death. On that Christmas Eve, I was wide awake with the emptiness of forever.
It was at that precise moment, nearly a half-century ago, that the sound of sleigh bells clanged in the night air. Someone on that long-past Christmas Eve had chosen to walk the streets of my hometown shaking a set of bells. I collapsed back into the cradle of innocence. I drifted into perhaps the most peaceful sleep of my life, for it was a sleep where I believed dreams could come true.
In the years since that long ago Christmas Eve there have been countless nights where doubt and despair have kept me sleepless. But always I have returned to the sound of those bells I heard as a child, for they remind me that – despite the darkest of nights – there is love in the world.
Tonight I will walk down a street crowded with snug houses full of warmth. I will lean back my head. Ho Ho Ho, I will shout and shake the bells.
O, ring, ring bells of love and hope and belief in great mysteries of life!
This is jolly old [bells] Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.
–Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College.