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Christmas Bells

By Abby Westover

Long ago people believed that they could use bells to frighten away evil spirits. Bells were a simple form of noisemaking. They could be easily obtained or made and everyone knew how to use them. Many people thought that as winter began, evil spirits would come to harm them. So during the dark days after the harvest or the hunt, people would engage in ceremonies to keep bad things from happening to them while they waited for Spring and warmer days.

The tradition of using noisemakers like bells during these times carried over into the celebration of Christmas. But instead of making noise to keep away evil things, people made noise to celebrate something happy.

In many villages, there was a church and most churches had a bell. When something important was happening - such as remembering the birth of Jesus Christ - they would ring the bell.

You might hear this saying at Christmas: "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings". Most people remember this saying from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life". But over a hundred years ago, this was a very common saying amongst kids.

Back in those days, kids believed that making noise was just a part of Christmas. And bells were an easy way to make that noise. Bells were inexpensive musical instruments that people could take with them caroling or wassailing and almost every family had one or more. Bells also provided a bright and cheery sound and were acceptable to parents as proper tools to celebrate and make noise at Christmas.

Bells play an important part in other areas of celebrating Christmas. Some people probably picture Santa's reindeer with bells draped over them for decoration. Santa might also use bells to help find the reindeer in the dark or in the fog or snow.

And bells have always had a place in Christmas songs. The famous Christmas hymn I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day began as a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the 1860's. The poem was actually about the tragedy one felt during the civil war. Some of the lesser known verses go like this:

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

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearthstones of a continent
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, goodwill 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, goodwill 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, goodwill to men!"

Christmas bells are remembered in classic holiday songs such as "Jingle Bells", "Silver Bells", and "Christmas Bells are Ringing". Bells make a happy sound and are enjoyed in "ringing out the old and ringing in the new" each season as has been done in times past.

Abby Westover is 8 years old and a member of the My Merry Christmas staff of writers working in the mentoring program for young writers. She can be reached via email at abby@mymerrychristmas.com

If you would like to comment on this article, please email
editor@mymerrychristmas.com. This article appears courtesy of The Merry
Syndicate at www.mymerrychristmas.com with our best wishes for a warm and
merry holiday season. All copyrights reserved.