Sweet Silver Bells

 

IMG_3888Whether silver, brass, tin, ceramic, glass or some other material, bells are as much a part of winter holiday celebrations as holly, mistletoe, and twinkly lights. Bells have a long, rich history, and have been rung for many reasons – to warn people, gather people, guide ships, to celebrate. Bell making grew with the advancement of metallurgy. Beginning in China and spreading throughout Asia, the art of bell making eventually spread to Europe where early monks were among the first to create bells of different distinct tones and use them to create music.

IMG_3858Bells seem to have a role in all major religions and spiritual traditions. Their association with Christmas likely is due to church bells calling people to worship, a tradition some say began with St. Patrick. Church bells called folks to weddings (thus the term ‘wedding bells’), funerals, and other festivities and celebrations. Bells were thought to not only call out to mere mortals, but to ring to the heavens above!

IMG_3892Whatever the reason, bells are a part of Christmas and other winter celebrations…..sleigh bells, silver bells, Salvation Army Bells, jingle bells, bells on elves shoes, on reindeer harnesses, on trees, doors, in choirs and orchestras. There’s a long list of seasonal songs that feature bells. My personal favorite, especially when played by a bell chorus, is “Carol of the Bells”IMG_3951

 


“Sweet silver bells, All seem to say, Throw cares away.”

The original lyrics of Carol of the Bells had nothing to do with Christmas. The song was a Ukranian folk song written as a “winter well-wishing song,” according to Anthony Potoczniak, a Rice University anthropology graduate student who studied the song’s history. Photoczniak explains:

“Written in 1916 by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich and titled ‘Shchedryk’, the song tells the tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful year that the family will have. The song’s [original] title is derived from the Ukrainian word ‘shchedryj’, which means bountiful……”

Potoczniak explains that American choir director and arranger Peter Wilhousky heard Leontovich’s work and it reminded him of bells so he wrote new lyrics to convey that imagery.

IMG_3870

These bells, likely made in India, and have a beautiful floral design on them.

Another favorite is I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day based on a poem Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in 1863, two years after the death of his beloved wife from an accidental fire caused by a candle. Longfellow’s oldest son ran off against his father’s wishes to fight with the Union army and was severely wounded. This news caused the already grieving Longfellow to write this poem of despair, ending with hope. In 1872 the poem was first put to music by English organist John Baptiste Calkin, though there have been many other musical versions of it.

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!

And 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!

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!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
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.”

IMG_3958

Tiny china bells, part of childhood Christmases.

Written during a bloody war that tore our nation apart, by a grieving man, it became a Christmas song of hope, justice, peace.

May the bells on this holy-day, 152 years later, when it again seems “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men” also ring “loud and deep” a message of peace on earth, hope and goodwill to all.

IMG_4028Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, Hanukkah blessings……. whatever you celebrate….let your bells ring out!

Read about famous bells, bell making, the story of the largest bell ever made  (it  lays at the bottom of the sea), and a brief history of bells at: historyofbells.com

To read more of the history of:  Carol of the Bells

 

A  youtube version for listening:

 

6 thoughts on “Sweet Silver Bells

  1. Happy New Year!

    Mostly with family and/or traveling since mid November. I look forward to catching up with you…maybe 2nd week of January. I’m looking forward to starting Peace choir January 9.

    Zach’s Family Is here. Little ones are up.

    Peace, salaam, shalom

    Marilyn

    Date: Thu, 24 Dec 2015 16:01:51 +0000 To: marilynoe@msn.com

    Liked by 1 person

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