A few summers ago I was wandering through the stuff amassed for a summer sale at the Harbor Church, feeling quite pleased with myself for having brought a collection of books, relatively new paperbacks I had read and would be happy to find on a sale table. They were all fiction, most set in interesting times, with not an obscure and/or out-of-date academic tome among them. I had also vowed not to take any books home, nor be tempted by anything else on the various tables.
Then I spied the Christmas Chimes. They were in their original box, one I suppose is these days properly called “vintage.” It was festive, the illustration on the cover, golden angels, cherubs or cherubim — making me realize I could use one of those obscure tomes! — winged beings, childlike in their profile, each holding a horn to its lips. There was a red ribbon and a sprig of holly as well, all on a deep blue background, simple but conveying well the light-in-the-darkness mood of the season.
My resolution was quickly dismissed; this was that special “treasure” we all secretly hope to find at such sales. They were “A Genuine Swedish Product,” back in the days such things could rightly claim to be “made in Sweden.” Lest there be any misunderstanding, the remaining end flap of the box read “A Product of Swedish Handicraft to be arranged as shown in the illustration.”
In the way of Christmas decorations purchased in the midst of a busy summer they went into a desk drawer for safe keeping and were immediately forgotten. I came across them, again, this past fall, otherwise might not have remembered I had them when a friend started talking of a childhood tradition. And I knew where they were!
I must not have opened the box, or given it more than a quick look, on that summer day, because everything appeared to be intact, the narrow candles never lighted, only one end-of-box flap missing. The packing was carefully designed, of thin, cut, cardboard, not the pressed plastic or styrofoam they’d likely be nestled in today, with the “head” cherub who rode the top of the carousel wrapped in a single, small sheet of tissue paper.
Looking at the box I am now wondering if I will be able to get the pieces back in the spare, efficient manner in which I found them.
We had such chimes when I was a child; they sat in the middle of the dining room table, offering an intriguing lesson as well as providing a Christmas decoration. They were “fueled” by four candles, the heat rising from the flames causing a sort of fan to turn, the fan, in turn, moving the three pronged hanger from which the angels flew. Little wands hung from each one of them and, as they picked up speed, swung outward. They grazed the convex discs, little bell chimes, set on arms extending from a central star.
I am sure other people had them, thinking of my aunt who also hosted the family Christmas dinner. They were very popular, I found after putting the query out on social media, some still in use, others living only in memory and a few thought to be packed away somewhere, saved across the decades and generations.
I don’t remember what happened to ours, I think some pieces were bent in cleaning, destroying the delicate balance. My new-to-me ones are lovely but seem to be the same as those so long ago, of some thin sheet metal easily creased and impossible to truly flatten.
They are still produced, although it seems they are more likely to come from China than Sweden. I noticed replacement candles and should have measured to see if they were the same narrow tapers as I am loath to light these original ones, slightly bent and discolored. The sets I found were called Angel — not Christmas — Chimes, which I found upon reviewing to be the term printed on the box containing mine, a bit disconcerting as I think of angels with flowing gowns, not chubby legs.
And while they may not be those Angels from the Realms of Glory, who wing their flight o’re all the earth, or those from the Gospel of Luke who descend upon those poor shepherds watching their flocks by night rendering them sore afraid, there is something sweet about these little characters flitting about, creating the musical notes I am finally noticing float around them on the box cover.
Maybe they and their tiny musical notes are more like the Littlest Angel of the children’s book or the Little Drummer Boy whose humble gifts were the most precious.