Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Have you ever wondered how bells became associated with Christmas? There's "Carol of the Bells" "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" "Jingle Bells" etc.  But what exactly do bells have to do with Christmas? How did we end up associating the two?
Starting sometime when I was in middle school, a friend of my father's who is a Greek Orthodox Christian told him that they practiced handing out two jingle bells attached to a safety pin.  This was to serve as a reminder of the bells that were on the donkey's neck as Mary and Joseph made the journey to Bethlehem.  I liked this tradition and I started practicing it up until I graduated.

However, in doing some more digging to find out what exactly bells have to do with Christmas, I discovered they are linked back to the early Catholic church.  Christmas was the only time when mass was allowed to be held at midnight.  So on the stroke of midnight, a mass would be held and the bells would ring out to notify the people.  Then a tradition picked up from there of the church people bringing their own bells and ringing them on the stroke of midnight after the church bell rang.

Another way in which bells became connected to Christmas was with caroling.  Often carolers would play handbells in addition to singing as they were a light and easy "instrument" to bring along.  For certain songs, they would sometimes just play the bells without singing.  

Just in case anyone else was curious like I was, there is a little history lesson for us all!

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