Songs of Christmas…Carol of the Bells


This is part 26 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.

“Carol of the Bells” is the Christmas carol that was never intended to be a Christmas carol. In the song’s original writing, Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych, the carol’s composer, wrote about the awakening of God’s people to the beauty of the Creation. The song was intended to be performed by an a capella choir. There were two other original versions, one for an a cappella women’s choir and the third for a children’s choir that would be accompanied by a piano.

The song, titled Shchedryk” meaning “The Generous One” gained immediate popularity when it was first performed at Kiev University in Ukraine in 1916. Children loved the song because it was simple enough to be done as a round but could sound quite complex when performed by an adult choir. Then the Bolshevik Revolution occurred along with World War I and Ukraine all but disappeared from the world. During the Soviet period, “Shchedryk” lost popularity among the people.

Meanwhile, in the United States, “Shcedryk” didn’t prove to be very popular. The song was performed to sell-out crowds on two occasions but didn’t gain much headway.

In 1936, Peter Wilhousky, a graduate of what would become Juilliard, was an arranger for the NBC Orchestra. He was looking for new Christmas music for the orchestra to perform when he encounter “Shcedryk.” He said it reminded him of hand bells. Wilhousky wrote a new version of the song with a Christmas theme to be performed by an orchestra. The song was reborn. After the orchestra played the song, the NBC switchboard became a hotbed of activity as people called in wanting either to have the music or a recording of the song. And, this was during the height of the Great Depression!

It wasn’t long before Minna Louise Holman got her hands on the music and wrote new lyrics for the Wilhousky arrangement of the song. When the two were combined, it became a Christmas coral standard.

Like so many Christmas carols, there is a popular legend that goes with this carol too. During the Middle Ages, bells served as a common and important mode of communications. Bells did more than signal the beginning and ending of a school day or mark the time for a religious service. The also served as a warning system at the approach of an enemy, as a fire alarm for the community and more. In the Bible there is no mention of bells at Christ’s birth. There are shepherds, heavenly hosts and a star, but no bells. Yet it would seem that in the Middle Ages, the story began and gained a life of its own that when Jesus was born, every bell on earth began to chime signifying that somewhere in the world something special had happened. It was a tale that any Eastern European child could tell.

Since that time, “Carol of the Bells” has seen many people record it. From The Carpenters to Andy Williams and Julie Andrews to Mannheim Steamroller, the song has had many recorded versions but no performer can truly call the carol there own. It is a carol for the world.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved


Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.


Spirita Spiro (Esperanza for "Spirit's Breath) is rather new in my life. But the blog is not. I began writing a blog several years ago. It lived under the title, "The Pastor Ponders." Over the years I have tried several different names and "The Pastor Ponders" always seemed to fit best. I am trying again with Spirita Spiro. For 27 years I was a full-time pastor in the United Methodist Church. This year, August 2018, I semi-retired (I can't actually retire quite yet) and began teaching social studies. It is something I have always wanted to do and if I was going to do this, I needed to make it sooner rather than later. So, I made the move. I thought with the career change there also needed to be a name change to the blog and other things, such as spiritual direction. Spirita Spiro is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 27 years as a full-time United Methodist pastor. Most recently I served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas. I have also served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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