“Carol of the Bells”, It’s Not What You Think
December 13, 2019

We all have heard the lyrics to the classic Christmas carol, “Carol of the Bells”:

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 caroling.

One seems to hear
Words of good cheer
From everywhere
Filling the air.

Oh how they pound,
Raising the 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.

We have all heard it sung countless times in classic Christmas movies like Home Alone and on the radio during the holiday season, but did you know that “Carol of the Bells” was not originally intended to be a Christmas carol?  The song was written in 1916 by a Ukrainian composer, Mykola Leontovich and titled “Shchedryk” which essentially means “bountiful” in Ukrainian.  The haunting four-note melody was meant to be a winter well-wishing folk song written during a period of intense political and social upheaval in Soviet Ukraine.  The original lyrics reference a small bird harkening to the master of the house, foreshadowing wealth, healthy livestock, and a beautiful bride.

How did a Ukrainian folk song become a holiday super-hit for us?  An American choir director, Peter Wilhousky, heard Leontovich’s “Shchedryk”, which reminded him of bells and further inspired him to compose new lyrics, which include “silver bells”, “caroling” and “merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas”.  Three cheers for Leontovich and Wilhousky, and Happy Holidays from Daley Zucker.

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