The Polar Express Santa Paradox


If you’re a fan of the yuletide season then you’ve most likely seen—or at least heard of—the hot chocolate classic known as The Polar Express. Whether it be one innocent viewing years ago or a family tradition, it’s no secret that Santa is recognized as an actually existing being in the movie. 

The oddly nameless kids all embark on a night time train ride to the North Pole itself to see the big man in red who while the kids are beginning to lose belief, have their hopes revived when they see real elves and the jolly fellow himself.

So, how can it be that at the end of the movie it’s stated that only those who believe in Santa can hear the melodic sound of the bell that our protagonist—Hero Boy—receives as the first gift of Christmas from Santa himself? How can you stop believing in something or someone that’s recognized as canonically real in the universe that is The Polar Express

Spoiler alerts regarded, Hero Boy loses the first gift of Christmas because of the not so shallowly foreshadowed menace of a hole in his robe pocket. He is overjoyed to discover the very same bell under his Christmas tree on Christmas morning. But who put it there? Santa… right?

Well, Hero Boy’s parents don’t seem to know where it came from. But if they don’t believe in Santa, that means they bought all the presents that Hero Boy and his for some reason named sister Sarah are seen to be opening at the end of the movie. 

Hero Boy’s parents don’t recognize the true existence of Santa, but his existence is at the very same time proven by the fact that the reveled bell ends up under the tree afterall. So, what’s the point of Santa if the children’s parents just buy all their presents anyways? Who is Santa making presents for?

Now you might be thinking of Billy. Maybe Santa gives gifts to the children whose families can’t afford to buy them any! Right? Wrong! Billy explains at the beginning of the movie that Santa doesn’t come by his house. 

What the heck Santa? I mean, you exist… or do you? It’s a paradox. Santa’s existence is confirmed yet also ignored within the plot over and over again. The Santa paradox doesn’t just happen in The Polar Express though, it also happens in The Santa Clause. But that’s not important right now. Right now we’re trying to get to the bottom of why Billy doesn’t get any presents on Christmas morning,

I mean, is Santa just a jerk? That can’t be it… can it? Santa’s factory is seen to be pumping out countless presents, so where are all of those presents going? Or was it all just a dream? 

All of our introduced characters on the Polar Express itself are seen to live around the same neighborhood or at least within close enough proximity that they can recognize the familiarity of a shop window as they pass by. So how don’t these kids know each other? Do they not go to school together? 

That’s more so odd, maybe even a question that can be pondered and quickly ignored because “it’s just a movie.” But the Santa paradox is a genuine plot hole; a true paradox. Does Santa exist, or doesn’t he? It can’t be both. But it is. 

Santa pumps out presents which go nowhere to no one and parents either afford to buy their kids presents for Christmas or don’t. We know Hero Boy didn’t dream it because he has the bell and his parents confirm that they didn’t put it there. They also can’t hear the ring of the bell, which informs the audience that they don’t believe in Santa anymore. 

What happens when Hero Boy grows up? If he has a family, will he just not buy his kids presents? He doesn’t have to, because Santa is real. Remember, Hero Boy has actually met Santa and as he grows older he never fails to hear the symphony that is that Christmas bell. So either Hero Boy is in for a shock or… or Santa brings his kids presents.

Maybe Santa only leaves presents for families who all together—parents included—still believe in Santa. But why would Santa be so selective? Especially if he’s magic? So many questions. Too many questions. And no explanations. 

Why wouldn’t Santa leave presents for those families that can’t afford to buy them? Why doesn’t Santa bring presents to families who can? Who is Santa making presents for? Was it all just a mirage? I know it’s magic, but it just doesn’t add up. 

The Santa paradox. One of the greatest Christmas movie mysteries of our time.