I love Christmas. Gift-giving. Decorations. Music. Movies. All of it. If not for the cold temperatures, I would say it’s my favorite time of year – it is my favorite holiday and always has been.

When a local movie theater, Abingdon Cinemall, announced a holiday line-up of classic holiday movies, all free of charge, I told Russ I was going to treat myself, especially to the ones I’ve never seen. And Elf – because it’s Elf and it makes me happy (and because I’ve never seen it on the big screen and who wouldn’t want to see all that happiness larger than life?!?

The lineup started yesterday with The Polar Express, which I’d never seen. That’s not to say I’m unfamiliar with The Polar Express, though. Remember, I was a Youth Services Librarian once upon a time, so I know all about the beautiful children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. (Which I’ve also never read.) Epic fail on my part. But I know that children everywhere – the grown-up kind like me, too – have loved The Polar Express for decades now. The book was published in 1985. Which means it’s been around almost as long as I’ve loved Duran Duran’s music, which is a long, long time.

Five years ago, I worked at Cracker Barrel during the holiday season, from September through January. It was supposed to be for extra money, but never quite worked out that way because I worked in the retail store and there were far too many distractions for me to spend my meager checks on. Which was fine, in the long run, because it helped me buy Christmas gifts for friends and family that year, as well as providing me with a way of coping with things after Mom died earlier that spring. The best thing that came from those few months at Cracker Barrel revolved around The Polar Express, too. We had a glorious Polar Express train set in the store that I watched and listened to daily, seeing how kids’ eyes lit up and how happy their hearts were, just to be around it. My Aunt Patty’s husband Conn was retired from the railroad, so all his grandkids were crazy about trains. These kids were the closest to babies I would ever have, and I was known to spoil them a bit for the holidays, because I was the fun “aunt,” even though I’m actually their cousin. Employees got nice discounts at Cracker Barrel, but more importantly than that, I wanted to light up their Christmas the way I saw so many other kids’ days light up when they came into the store and spent time around the tree where the train was set up. I bought two train sets and had my Aunt and Uncle take them to Northern Virginia when they went to visit for Christmas. To say the gifts were a hit was an understatement. As a matter of fact, five years later, the trains are still an important part of the families’ Christmas celebrations. The day after Thanksgiving, my cousin Kedric sent me pictures of their set-up via Facebook. His three beg to set it up in the middle of summer and would play with it year-round if it were made available to them. In preparation for this blog, I asked my cousin Melenia if they still had theirs. “Yes,” she told me, “they love it.” And her two are teenagers now, so I guess I did something right five years ago.

Yesterday afternoon, I decided to go see for myself. I went to the 2:00 showing – Abingdon Cinemall is showing each Christmas feature five times on its assigned day for free. You read that correctly. No charge. No concession purchases required. Just show up, get a ticket, find a seat, and enjoy the show. I love the way this particular theater treats families in our area. They may not have all the bells and whistles that some of the other local theaters have, but they understand family dynamics and budgets. They understand attracting kids to the theater and have a superb arcade and 3-D experiences to enjoy. I spent about ten minutes watching a kid I’d never met on a virtual reality roller coaster with his mom yesterday and laughed so hard I cried listening to him scream and cry out, “Hold my hand,” then ask to go again because it “was the best!”

Each person received a train ticket for the movie when we checked in. An employee dressed as The Conductor punched our tickets and assured us, he’d “never been late before” and he was “certainly not going to be late” with us. Then the movie started, and I found myself surrounded by kids and parents on all sides who knew all the songs and sang them. I sat there and cried almost from start to finish because, not only do I love Christmas, but I am a Christmas sap. I made myself look around during the few parts of the movie when the theater was more brightly illuminated by the movie screen, though, and witnessed the wonder and awe shining from the face of the children around me, making me cry even more. I willed the main boy to be able to hear sleigh bells the whole movie. When the other kids could and he couldn’t, I wanted to yell out, “You have to believe in Santa,” but I refrained and drank more water to keep my mouth occupied, so I wouldn’t ruin it for others. (I’ve never read the book or seen the movie, but I’m a writer and a Christmas fan; some things, we just know.)

I loved the return trip when everyone’s ticket gets punched again and the rest of the letters spell out the lesson they were supposed to learn on the trip – LEARN, RELY ON/DEPEND ON/COUNT ON, LEAD, and BELIEVE. All of our tickets had the word “BELIEVE” printed on them. I wondered what word my ticket would have had if I had actually been on the train. I guess BELIEVE is appropriate for most of us, because we all lose faith at some point, to some degree. I’m glad I can sit in a theater full of other people and still feel the tug on my heart strings that comes from believing, though. I’m glad I still hear sleigh bells and always will.

I’m already looking forward to the next few weeks, too, and seeing more movies at Abingdon Cinemall, hopefully some of them with Russ. Look out, Buddy the Elf – singing is my favorite, too!