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What is the Tradition & History of Christmas Bells?

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The Interesting Tradition of Christmas Bells & Bell Ringing

Christmas bells are everywhere; in our towns, holiday songs, and favorite movies. 

‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Silver Bells’, and ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’ – we all happily sing along to these popular carols each year. 

But do you ever think about the history of Christmas bells, and how they became such a key part of our festive celebrations? 

It’s thought that bell-ringing in Winter stems from the Pagan tradition of scaring away evil spirits with noisemakers.

The tradition of Christmas bells has evolved hugely since then, and it’s now a sign of celebration and coming together. 

Although how we use and perceive bells may have changed over time, some things have stayed the same. 

Bell-ringing has always been a part of winter since ancient times began. 

It wasn’t long after that bells came to symbolize celebration and holidays, and this tradition has been with us ever since. 

In this article from Open For Christmas, we break down the interesting history of these instantly recognizable musical instruments. 

We’ll discuss: 

  • The History of Christmas Bells
  • What Do Christmas Bells Symbolize?
  • Why Do We Ring Christmas Bells on Christmas Eve?
  • What Is the Origin of Jingle Bells?
  • Christmas Bells FAQs

History of Christmas Bells 

Although difficult to know for sure, the first use of bells in wintertime may have been Pagan winter celebrations.  

Noisemakers were originally used to scare away evil spirits at the night, and some of these noisemakers were bells.  

The dark motive behind ringing bells in winter was quickly forgotten, and people began ringing bells for the fun of it. 

Eventually, the festive bell-ringing was introduced into celebrations and announcements – such as the beginning of a church service. 

Bells are and have always been used as a form of communication. 

Before the internet or any form of modern communication, bells made it easy to quickly inform towns and villages of news without needing a town crier. 

They would announce the start of ceremonies, an important person’s arrival, or the death or wedding of people. 

Saint Patrick shared his teaching across Ireland and used bells to mark the beginning of his lessons and the beginning of Mass. 

This started the tradition of ringing bells to mark the start of a church service – which is still used today. 

Despite bells being used to symbolize a church service all year round, the bell-ringing around Christmas time is what the church is known for. 

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What Do Christmas Bells Symbolize?

We find bells everywhere at Christmas. 

From Santa’s clothes, to wreaths and tree decorations, and in the hands of choirs and carol-singers, bells are everywhere! 

But aside from the history of Christmas bells, there’s no real symbolism behind why we use bells instead of any other instrument. 

In fact, it more likely comes down to affordability and practicality. 

Bells are jolly, but they’re also lightweight, cheap, and easy to carry around. 

This is perfect for carolers heading door to door, and for church choirs who maybe don’t have huge budgets. 

Why Do We Ring Christmas Bells on Christmas Eve?

All year round bells are used to start an announcement and essentially to get people’s attention. 

Of course, they’re also used in music, but their more common use is to be loud and proud. 

Churches use bells as a call to worship, and in Anglican and Catholic Churches, the Christian day started at sunset. 

On Christmas Eve, the first service after sunset is still observed as the first official Christmas Day service. 

The infamous Christmas Eve bells announce the beginning of this service. 

What Is the Origin of Jingle Bells?

Jingle Bells might just be the most well-known Christmas song.

But, did you know that the jolly tune was originally a Thanksgiving song? 

When it was published in 1857 as a song for Thanksgiving in the USA, it was titled “One Horse Open Sleigh”. 

The snowy and festive lyrics meant the song quickly became associated with Christmas, and by the 1860s many choirs would sing it during Christmastime. 

In the modern version, we only sing the first verse and chorus – this may be because the other verses are about the sleigh driving fast and crashing! 

Christmas Bells FAQs

What Are Christmas Bells Called? 

There are three different types of Christmas bells. One is the ‘jingle bells’ or ‘sleigh bells’ which are small and usually used as decoration or accessories. Then you have the hand-held choir bells, used for carol-singing and in choirs, and finally, the large church bells that ring out on Christmas Eve. 

What Time Do the Bells Ring on Christmas Eve? 

On Christmas Eve 2020, bells across the globe rang out at 6 pm in an effort to combat loneliness and bring people together. Thousands stood on their doorsteps with hand-held bells to celebrate the beginning of Christmas. 

What Was the Purpose of Sleigh Bells?

Sleigh Bells were used on sleighs and carriages as a warning that a horse-drawn vehicle was approaching at night, in snow, or through a fog. A horse-drawn sleigh in the snow is almost silent and could be dangerous to those walking or other sleighs passing by.  

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Final Thoughts on The History of Christmas Bells & Bell Ringing

We hope you have enjoyed learning all about the history of Christmas bells, and how they became such an important part of our festive celebrations. 

From warding away evil spirits to the jingle bells on Santa’s boots, these jolly instruments have come a long way. 

The tradition of Christmas bells is used differently around the world and in different religions. 

But one thing is always the same – bells bring people together and symbolize the start of the celebration. 

Next time you hear the church bells ringing out on Christmas Eve, think back to hundreds of years ago when Pagan’s would use their noisemakers at night in the wintertime to protect their families from evil. 

If you’ve enjoyed this article from Open For Christmas, take a look at our similar posts listed below. 

Related Christmas Facts and Guides from Open for Christmas: 

What is the Tradition & History of Christmas Bells?

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