You know, when we think of Christmas, we think of one thing.
Maybe you do to.
Bells! Bing-bong! Bing-bong! Bing-bong! Bing-bong!
Ah, the SNL Sweeney sisters said it well, didn’t they?
Today was a cool but sunny day to enjoy Belmont’s Christmas Carillon concert. In case you’ve not heard of a carillon, it is an instrument composed of at least 23 bells, and is played by a keyboard and foot pedals. They are typically enclosed in towers. There are approximately 180 in North America, so they are a fairly rare instrument.
We were surprised that the outdoor concert was a popular Christmas Eve event for Nashville. (Where were all you people last night?) Though there wasn’t much to see, because the carillon is enclosed in Belmont’s bell tower, the sounds were beautiful, and a perfect accompaniment to Christmas Eve anticipation. Belmont’s tower was constructed in 1853 and has served as a water tower, a signal tower in the Civil War, before it became the first carillon tower in the state of Tennessee in 1928.
Another special Christmas Eve treat was lunch from Nashville’s popular Deg Thai food truck, which happened to be the ONLY food truck out today and was just blocks from Belmont. The noodlicious lunch hit the spot before we faced the chilly weather for the concert!
As I sat listening to the carillon concert, it reminded me of one of my favorite Christmas stories.
It was in western Europe in the 1600s, when carillons were still rare, but bells were being accurately tuned in the foundries so that beautiful melodies could be played from the bell towers where they were to be installed.
It was in a grand cathedral in what is now Belgium where a new set of bells had just been installed that a Bishop realized that while he had a grand set of bells, he had no one to play them. He especially desired to have the bells ring out on Christmas morning, celebrating the birth of Christ.
So the Bishop sent word across the land that a bellringer was needed, and requested anyone with experience to come to audition. In those days, word was slow to travel, but eventually men from across the land came to try their hand at ringing the majestic bells.
Unfortunately, because tuned bells were so new in those days, the auditioners lacked experience and talent. The Bishop became discouraged. Time was running short, as Christmas was just a few days away. He was about to give up hope, when a young man approached the rectory door, and gave a loud knock.
The Bishop came to the door, and was surprised to see a young man with no arms standing before him, asking to audition for the position of bell ringer. Hesitant, but not wanting to discourage the young man, he allowed him the opportunity to audition.
The Bishop and the armless bellringer entered the belfry, and the young man began to play — by striking the bells with his face! While shocked at first, the Bishop quickly realized that the music being played was some of the most beautiful he had ever heard. The Bishop tried to stop the man to tell him he was hired, but being distracted, the bellringer slipped and fell from the bell tower to his death.
A small crowd had already begun to gather, first to hear the bells, and now to the side of the now deceased bell ringer. The Bishop flew down the flight of stairs to join the crowd. Someone in the crowd asked, “Who was this man?”
The Bishop’s face fell. “I did not even have the chance to ask him his name,” the Bishop said sadly. “But his face sure rings a bell.”
Alas, the Bishop had not only lost his newfound friend, but the only bell ringer he could find. Christmas would be doubly dark this year.
But the next day, the Bishop heard a familiar loud knock on the door of the Rectory. When he opened the door, he saw a strangely familiar face. “I am the brother of the man who fell to his death from the bell tower yesterday,” the man said. “I would consider it an honor to attempt to play the bells at Christmas in my brother’s place.”
The Bishop was shocked not only at the man’s resemblence, but at his willingness to play the very instrument that led to his brother’s death. Of course, the Bishop wanted the brother to audition, and so they climbed the steps to the top of the belfry.
Both were winded at the top of the stairs, but the brother clearly moreso than the Bishop. Still, he wanted to play the bells. He began to grab for the ropes and play every bit as beautifully as his brother, but he was clearly becoming more and more winded as he played. Finally, in the midst of his first song, he clutched his chest, staggered, and lost consciousness, falling from the bell tower to the ground below.
Again, a crowd had gathered as the man took his last breaths, and as the Bishop arrived, someone asked, “Bishop, this is a terrible loss. Who was this man?”
The Bishop’s face was downcast as he confessed, “I do not know his name, but he’s a dead ringer for his brother.”
I hope this Christmas, you find time to laugh, to enjoy some good food, good music, and spend time with those you love. But most of all, I hope you find time to celebrate the wonderous gift of the birth of Christ!