Christmas Bells

I’ve always loved the sound of bells and I love the Christmas carols that feature them. The first that comes to mind is the setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which is worth quoting in full, as its message of peace remains more relevant than ever:

Christmas bells with red ribbon isolated on white background

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And then there’s Edgar Allan Poe’s superb “Hear the sledges with their bells, silver bells.” Even though the poem ends with funeral bells (it’s Poe, after all!), the first stanza evokes quite a festive mood. The poem also introduced me to a most marvelous bell word: “tinntinnabulation.” Here’s that first stanza:

Hear the sledges with the bells –
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

Another favorite of mine is the Ukranian Bell Carol. When I first heard it as a child it seemed so mysterious, so different from the other carols I knew. According to Wikipedia, the melody, composed by Mykola Leontovych , is based on a Ukranian folk chant, which partly accounts for the carol’s mysterious, evocative tone.

Here’s a version I found on youtube. I wish they had given the name of the children’s choir. It’s a lovely rendition:

What are some of your favorite holiday songs or poems featuring bells? It doesn’t have to be Christmas; I’m curious about other traditions, as well.

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