Why Bells at Christmas?

Bells are a familiar symbol of the Christmas season.  From sugar cookies to holiday decorations, the recognizable shape resonates the joy of Christmas.  For handbell and handchime ensembles, no season is busier as eager listeners revel in their festive sounds.

The use of bells dates back to pagan times when they were used to ward off evil spirits.  However, through the centuries, they have become closely associated with the Christian church. It was St. Patrick who initially used bells in the 5th century to gather people together in order to preach the Word of God.  Irish missionaries continued the practice around the globe and by the 8th century, bells were closely associated with the Church.

Bells have multiple uses as their ringing reverberates various messages across the land:  to call a gathering; to announce a festival; to warn of danger; to celebrate the living; to pause in our daily activities to pray; to remember a significant occurrence; and to mourn those we have lost to name a few. At Christmas, bells ring to announce the birth of Christ and His presence in the world!

One of the most famous examples of taking this glorious symbol and using it to ring a message so true is the poet, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882), who penned his famous poem, Christmas Bells, during the American Civil War.

Christmas Bells

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!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of 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!

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

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
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!

Illuminating Music for Epiphany

It’s difficult to think past Christmas right now but, it is time to prepare for the 5+ weeks before Ash Wednesday on February 14th.  January 6th begins the season of Epiphany just 12 days after Christmas.  Themes for the season are the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus, the Miracle at Cana and Christ as the Light of the World.  The latter can also be seen as a revelation of Jesus to the world.

When we think Epiphany, we often refer to the Three Kings’ Day.  However, the season has so much more meaning and we can reflect that in the music that we choose for Worship.


We’ve compiled a list of titles that will help bring more meaning to this glorious season.  All of which are available for immediate purchase and digital download from the ChimeWorks website:


What Star Is This with Beams So Bright – arr. Cathy Moklebust

L1  2 – 3 Octaves or 3 – 5 Octaves


A happy, light setting of PUER NOBIS, also subtitled On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry, and That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright, is appropriate for Easter, Advent, or Epiphany. TD, LV, and RT are used.  Learn it now and ring it in April, too!


We Three Kings – arr. Valerie Stephenson

L1  2 – 3 Octaves or 3 – 5 Octaves


This familiar piece has no more rhythmic difficulty than quarter notes, but it offers some unique challenges. With its dynamic changes, shading and shaping the musical line, ringers can work to develop expressive and musical ringing. Techniques include finger damping and swings.


When Morning Gilds the Skies – arr. Karen Roth

L1+  2 – 3 Octaves or 3 – 5 Octaves


This setting of the well-known hymn offers excellent opportunities for expressive, musical ringing. It presents ringers with a chance to experience LVs and sensitive, musical ringing of a lovely arrangement.


What Star Is This That Beams So Bright – arr. Barbara B. Kinyon

L2-   2 Octaves


An easy setting of the tune, PUER NOBIS. May also be used during the Easter season as That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright.


One Star – Cheryl J. Rogers/Derek Hakes

L2   3 – 5 Octaves


Based on a choral anthem by Cheryl Jones Rogers (CGA460), this handbell transcription effectively captures the beauty and mystery of the original lyrics and music. This flexible piece includes an option for the anthem text to be spoken by a narrator, or, if desired, the bell piece may be used to accompany the singing of the anthem by a vocal soloist or choir.


I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light – arr. Cathy Moklebust

L2  2 – 3 Octaves or 3 – 5 Octaves with optional C or Bb instrument


Kathleen Thomerson’s popular hymn tune HOUSTON has been treated simply and delicately with minimal bell changes and techniques, making this a very accessible arrangement.  A short original melody comprises the introduction, interludes, and ending.  In the second stanza, the upper treble bells/chimes are played with mallets, while the hymn tune is played by the lower treble and bass.  The optional C or Bb instrument makes a lovely addition.


Thy Holy Wings – arr. Cathy Moklebust

L2  3- 5 Octaves


“Thy Holy Wings” is a delicate, flowing arrangement of the Swedish folk tune BRED DINA VIDA VINGER. It opens and closes with an original melody. The piece is appropriate for services of baptism or confirmation or for themes of guidance, healing, and comfort.


I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry – John Ylvisaker/Martha Lynn Thompson

L2  3 – 6 Octaves


The ethereal opening and closing motifs, played on randomly-malleted suspended chimes, suggest the mystery surrounding the beginning and ending of life. The music of the stanzas depicts the various stages of life as described in the hymn text.  Mirroring the opening section, the piece grows softer until the final malleted chord. An optional hymn page for vocal soloist is included. If desired, the hymn text may be read by a narrator, beginning each stanza at the places indicated within the score.


Children of the Heavenly Father – arr. Cathy Moklebust

L2  3 – 5 Octaves


Now in an expanded version, this short, simple arrangement of the beloved Swedish tune, TRYGGARE KAN INGEN VARA, is delicate and lovely. Appropriate for baptism, confirmation, or any time a musical focus on children is desired.


We Three Kings – Sondra Tucker

L3  3 – 5 Octaves


This ebullient setting of “We Three Kings” evokes the pilgrimage of the Wise Men through the desert.  Judicious use of thumb-damp keeps the texture light.