What are the lyrics to ‘Carol of the Bells’? And what are origins of the carol?

15 December 2020, 16:20

What are the lyrics to ‘Carol of the Bells’?
What are the lyrics to ‘Carol of the Bells’? Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

We trace the journey of this popular carol – from its origins as a Ukrainian folk song, to ‘Home Alone’ soundtrack favourite.

‘Carol of the Bells’ is as instantly recognisable and irresistibly catchy as any Christmas song.

‘Merry, merry, merry, merry, Christmas!’ the carol chirps. Its music – composed in a minor key – hooks you straight in and ushers in the inevitable jingle of Christmas as soon as it starts.

You might know the catchy Christmas ditty from the movie Home Alone, or from Harry Potter 3. Or from annual cold Christmas busking sessions with your school wind band.

Whichever it is, read on to find out where it came from and what the words are...

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What are the origins of ‘Carol of the Bells’?

‘Carol of the Bells’ is a Ukrainian-American carol. The melody is taken from a Ukrainian folk chant, known since the 20th century as ‘Shchedryk’. And the lyrics are by American composer Peter Wilhousky.

‘Shchedryk’ translates as ‘The Little Swallow’ and before the Christmas lyrics were set, it was originally sung for the new year. It was arranged to tell the story of this little swallow by Ukrainian composer and teacher Mykola Leontovych in 1914.

From fluttering swallows, then, to jingling bells.

The rushing Christmas words Peter Wilhousky penned and set in 1936 make the bell-like opening chords onomatopoeic. The choir intones ‘Ding, dong, ding, dong’ in accompaniment, as ‘silver bells’ indicate ‘Christmas is here’. The Christmassy flurries are twinged with uncertainty, though – evocative, perhaps, of those end-of-the-year feelings and reflections familiar to us all.

The ‘Carol of the Bells’ melody is evocative of those end-of-the-year feelings and reflections familiar to us all.
The ‘Carol of the Bells’ melody is evocative of those end-of-the-year feelings and reflections familiar to us all. Picture: Getty

‘Carol of the Bells’ – full lyrics

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 carolling
One seems to hear
Words of good cheer
From ev’rywhere
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

On, on they send
On without end
Their joyful tone
To ev’ry home

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 carolling
One seems to hear
Words of good cheer
From ev’rywhere
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

On, on they send
On without end
Their joyful tone
To ev’ry home

Classic FM is the home of Christmas music. Listen throughout December as we play traditional melodies, beloved carols and festive programmes to bring us all together this year.