Carol of the Bells

Repost from Redhill Church blog. Some friends and I reflected on some of our favourite carols. This is one of mine…

The original version of what we now know as Carol of the Bells was written in 1914 by Ukranian Mykola Leontovych. It was written as a folk song celebrating the coming of Spring and the hope of a prosperous year ahead. The original lyrics described a swallow flying from house to house, but a rewrite by Ukranian-born American composer Peter J. Wilhousky nearly two decades later shifted the concept from birds to bells and added other Christmas-y references.

What it’s about…
The song in its present day form describes bells that are ringing with joyous melody, bringing hope and good cheer to all who hear them.

When I sing it…
In true carol nerd-dom I printed out these lyrics one Christmas and stuck them on the fridge, so that I could subliminally absorb the words and be able to sing along to the Pentatonix version in the car. Totally not ashamed of that.

While this carol is typically considered part of the ‘general festive carols’ red sack rather than the ‘gospel carols’ red sack, I can’t help but see symbolism in these ding-donging bells. Imagine that the bells are in fact us, and see how the songs paints a picture of evangelos – those who are sent to share a message of good news:

…Oh how they pound, raising their sound,

O’er hill and dale, telling their tale.

Gaily they ring while people sing

Songs of good cheer, Christmas is here…

…On on they send, on without end

Their joyful tone to every home.

Can you see it? With every ‘ding dong’ of this carol I see feet setting out on walking trails, on roads, across mountains and into valleys. I see messengers on bicycles in modern city laneways and monks hiking through medieval forests. I see the apostles of the early church entering new towns with stories of a man they’d known who was the Son of God, and people in my own city who are sending joyful tones into homes through their words of hope and acts of kindness.

carols-feet-2

So while the song was initially intended as a simple folk song about birds, and later as a cheery Christmas song about bells, in my mind I’ve co-opted it as a beautiful picture of the church. And now when I hear this song, I think of all of us – evangelos – sent with a message of hope that rings out over hills, valleys and our neighbourhoods, bringing joy to all that hear it.



Lyrics

Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells,

All seem to say: “throw cares away”

Christmas is here, bringing good cheer,

To young and old, meek and the bold.

Ding dong ding dong, that is their song

With joyful ring all carolling.

One seems to hear words of good cheer

From everywhere filling the air.

Oh how they pound, raising their sound,

O’er hill and dale, telling their tale.

Gaily they ring while people sing

Songs of good cheer, Christmas is here.

Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas,

Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas.

On on they send, on without end

Their joyful tone to every home.


 

My friends have written some great reflections on other carols. Check them out on the Redhill Church blog!

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