by Paula Gail Benson
During the holidays, there is a lot of emphasis on gift giving. For most of us, it means online or in store shopping and figuring out the heart’s desires of those nearest and dearest to us.
Sometimes, the gifts of the holiday season are more subtle. The joy of hearing and singing traditional music. The quiet realization that comes from a special moment while watching a holiday program. The chance to see and reminisce with family and friends.
This year, I received a special gift while talking with my friend Margaret Davis, who works with the children and handbell choirs at my church. Probably, Margaret didn’t realize she was giving me anything. She just told me about a story that had been very meaningful to her. And, for the first time, I heard about “Why the Chimes Rang.”
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In 1909, Raymond MacDonald Alden wrote the story. The Baldwin Project (“Bringing Yesterday’s Classics to Today’s Children”) provides an online version.
Several other versions are available through Amazon, including a dramatized version.
The story is about a town with a large church that has impressive Christmas chimes. Unfortunately, the chimes have not been heard for many years. Every year, the townspeople would lay their offerings to the Christ child on the church’s altar. They believed that when the greatest and best offering was placed on the altar, the bells would chime.
One year, Pedro and his younger brother decided to go to the church on Christmas Eve, to attend the service. On their way, they came upon a poor woman who had collapsed in the cold. Pedro decided to stay with the woman and help her keep warm until his brother could bring assistance from the people leaving the service. He gave his brother a coin and cautioned him to place it on the altar when no one was looking.
The brother arrives at the service and sees many gifts being placed on the altar, including a book an author had been writing for many years and the crown the king took from his own head. None of the gifts caused the bells to chime. As the service was concluding, no one noticed the brother quietly placing Pedro’s coin on the altar. Only when the chimes rang out did those closest to the altar see the little brother creeping silently down the aisle.
Raymond MacDonald Alden was the son of author Isabella MacDonald Alden (who wrote many Sunday School books) and Reverend Gustavus Rossenberg Alden. Raymond became an English professor, writing books of literary analysis. His “Why the Chimes Rang” has been compared with two similar holiday stories, “Le Jongleur de Notre Dame” (a miracle story about a juggler who becomes a monk and has no gift to offer the statue of the Virgin Mary except his ability to juggle--when the other monks ridicule him, the statue comes to life and blesses him) and “The Little Drummer Boy” (who plays his drum as a gift for the Christ child). The Wikipedia article on Raymond MacDonald Alden provides information about his work and links to articles about the related stories.
I’m so grateful that my friend Margaret told me about this story, for now it will become part of my holiday celebrations. It’s good to remember in the hustle and bustle of the season that sometimes the smallest offering can have the most significant effect.
May you all be looking forward to a wonderful holiday!