When the Chimes Rang


Adapted from the story by

Raymond MacDonald Alden


       Long ago in a faraway country there was an old cathedral. No one knew when it had been built. It stood on a high hill and every Sunday people came to worship there. Like many cathedrals, the nave, the central portion of the cathedral, had a very high ceiling, perhaps not as high as Amiens in France, but very high nevertheless.

       The nave was so long that one could scarcely see the altar from the very back, and along the side of the nave were wonderful small altars where people could make their private devotions. The organ was wonderful and when it was played, you could hear it all over the country-side. This cathedral only had one old priest and a few boys for his helpers who cleaned the church before each Sunday.

        But the most wonderful thing about this cathedral were the chimes. They hung in the tower of the church that was so high that one could only see the pinnacle on a clear sunny day. No one remembered how tall the tower was or how many chimes there were because it had been so long since any one had ever heard them. There was no rope for anyone to pull and so the people said only the angels could make the chimes ring. They were Christmas chimes, only to be heard following the special Christmas Eve service that the people came to.

         But the truth was it had been so long since anyone had ever heard them that no one really remembered what they sounded like. There was one old woman who said that her mother remembered hearing them and that they sounded like the voices of angels. The old woman said that the chimes rang when the people had brought their gifts on Christmas Eve for the Christ-child.

          However, over the years, people had become more consumed with their own possessions than with sharing. The country was ruled by a king who cared more for his own image of power than for helping the people. The people chafed under this king but in those days, people did not do much more because kings had armies and had no compunction to use them to quell dissent.

          Every Christmas Eve, however, the rich people would come, each one trying to outdo the other by laying splendid gifts on the altar in hopes that their gift would make the chimes ring. Of course, although the gifts were splendid, they really did not diminish the lifestyle of the wealthy since even these rich and splendid gifts were cast-offs, like last year’s fashions. And as a result, the only sound was that of the wind swirling about the tower. The chimes were as silent as ever, for no gift on the altar was one of real sacrifice.

          Now, in the countryside miles away from the church lived two brothers with their widowed mother. They just barely scraped enough to survive. The older brother Matti hatched a plan to go to the cathedral for the Christmas Eve service. He told his younger brother Otto that he had heard that the Christ-child himself came down to bless the gifts that people brought and suggested that they should try to go and see the wonderful worship service that Christmas Eve.

         Their mother had gone to see her own old mother that Christmas Eve and told the boys that she would be back in the morning with surprises from their grand-mother. Their grandmother was a wonderful baker and they knew they would probably receive a special Christmas cake from her. But they were so curious that after agreeing to stay home, they decided that they would go to the cathedral for Christmas Eve.

        That winter was particularly cold; snow swirled about and was even deeper than usual. They had the boots that their mother had made from reindeer hide and the sweaters, mittens, and hats their mother had knitted so they figured that they would be fine for the trip. They even had some of mother’s bread. But they had no idea what to bring for the Christ-child. Then Matti told Otto that he had two coins he had been saving for a long time and that they could bring these for the Holy Child.

        They slipped away after their mother had left the house and were just outside of the gates of the city when they saw an old woman who had fallen down in the snow. She was in danger of freezing to death. Matti looked at his younger brother and gave him part of the bread and one of the coins for the Child, and told him to go on by himself.

        “But you’ll miss the music, and the lights, and it all,” protested his younger brother. But Matti responded, “If I don’t get this woman to a warm place and give her some-thing warm to drink, she’ll die.” He continued, “I can get her something warm with one of these coins. You can come back and tell me about it.”

        Reluctantly, the younger brother trudged on into the city. The lights were truly spectacular and there was a special warmth within the walls. People were scurrying about finishing up their last minute shopping before it became dark. There was one old man who offered warm cider to children but some of them were so preoccupied with what they wanted their parents to give them, they ignored him.

        But not the younger brother who was by now cold from having walked from his village by the lake, and he thanked the old man for sharing his warm mulled cider with others. The old man just smiled and pointed the way toward the cathedral.

         And inside, it was almost beyond description. The lights and music were overwhelming and so young Otto slid into a side chair because all the rich and powerful people were in the center, each one looking to outdo the other. Even the King was there accompanied by his wife who looked about the nave to see who came and where they were seated.

         And so, at the end of the worship service, it came to the time when people would lay their gifts on the altar. One by one they went, looking up, waiting for the magical chimes to ring. And all they heard was the wind around the tower. Finally, after the Queen had put her amber necklace on the altar and all was silent, the King took off his crown and laid it on the altar. Only the wind could be heard.

        What was it that the Child wanted? More than a crown? The King was upset as was the Queen. They turned to each other as well as the nobles and the wealthy who had gotten their wealth by working the peasants over the years.

         Everyone was about to leave when all of a sudden, the sound of sweet chimes filled the air. They turned and could only see a small boy leaving the altar where he had laid his coin.