Christmas Music: The Bells of Christmas

I love Christmas bells — they are the sound of Christmas to me. One of my earliest Christmas memories was hearing the song “Silver Bells”. I felt so grown up when I’d memorized the words from a song book we had a home, and could sing along when the song came on the radio. There are so many songs about Christmas Bells, it was hard to choose which songs to choose to write about. Here are my top three.

Christmas Bells Are Ringing — from the Children’s Songbook. Every recording of this I found was not very musical, so I apologize for that, but I still love this song. My mom was the Primary song leader for most of my time in Primary, she always made song time so fun. One year, she had my dad make these bells/chimes out of plumbers pipe for all of the kids — which were my siblings, and our cousins that lived across the street. And one year the First Ward Primary learned to play the pipe bells. We used them when we sang this song as a round. I remember learning and singing this song as being a very joyful time.

All Bells in Paradise by John Rutter. If there is one person that I associate with good choral music it’s John Rutter. Singing his Christmas songs especially hold very dear and sweet memories and experiences for me. This is one of his newer songs The words really bring in the Spirit and message of Christ’s birth. I’ve just included verse one, but look the song up for the rest of the words, it’s worth a few clicks on google.

Verse 1: Deep in the cold of winter,
Darkness and silence were everywhere;
Softly and clearly, there came through the stillness
a wonderful sound to hear:
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Sounding in majesty the news that they bring;
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Welcoming our Saviour, born on earth a heavenly King.
All bells in paradise I heard them ring:
‘Glory to God on high’ the angel voices sing.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Here is another story of how a Christmas song came to be a song. I remember singing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day in my senior voice recital and not really being too jazzed about it all. I’m pretty sure I was shooting fire darts from my eyes at my voice teacher during the performance. (Sorry, Cory! I was being a turkey, I was 17). A few years ago, I found this clip from the Tabernacle Choir with Edward Hermann telling the story of how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow came to write this poem. Most of us know his most famous poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” (which you learn, when you visit Boston, had some liberties taken with the truth of the actual ride), and perhaps you know his other famous work, “The Song of Hiawatha”.

I think it’s safe to say that for many we’ve been in the same dark places that Longfellow found himself in after the death of his wife and son. There is a grief that can linger and consume you to an extent. The stanza that really gives me hope, no matter what I’m facing at the time, is second to last, “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.” If there is one message I wish the world could understand at Christmas time, it is this one, “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.” I’ve included the stanzas that are the verses of the song in the LDS Hymn Book. For the full text of the poem click HERE. The full text really gives you a look into how Longfellow was feeling when he wrote this poem.

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 th’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!

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