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, goodwill to men.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
We finally wrestled the Christmas boxes down from the attic this week, put the ornaments on the tree, the wreath on the front door and garlands around the front door frame, and now all over the house, little Christmas knick-knacks we have collected over the years grace window sills, the fireplace mantel, the coffee table, the dining room table and even the backs of the dining room chairs. The picture above is what I see right now as I write this. And there are bells everywhere. I can’t sit down at the dining room table without ringing a bell. We even have little sleigh bells from a few Christmases ago that you can wear around your wrist. Bells to go.
Why are bells such an important part of Christmas? Sleigh bells — Jingle Bells — are probably the most recognizable sound of Christmas. Put the sound of jingling bells in anything and you immediately think of horses and reindeer, and Santa. Take a regular song and shake sleigh bells all through it and you suddenly have a Christmas song.
The other kinds of Christmas bells are the big bells — the ones in church towers and clock towers. These are the bells spoken of in Longfellow’s poem. They are the ones that peal out loud and deep and echo throughout the town proclaiming: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.” They refuse to stop their pealing for anything. They ring out hymns and Christmas carols at the end of the day, and when they really get excited, they ring out randomly as fast as you can pull the ropes in the belfry: Clang! Bang! Bong they go! They are a loud and joyful sound. They ring out hope, and victory, and peace. Think of the bells in the churches all over Europe at the end of both world wars, at least the ones that could still ring. Can’t you see the children ringing the bells that are so heavy they lift them up off the ground as they clang from side to side, and the children swing and bounce like marionettes on a string? It’s a picture of being carried away by joy. The big bell lifts you off the ground. Start ringing the bell and soon the bell rings you!
Joy to the world the Lord is come, bringing love, joy, peace, hope, forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. Ring! Ring them bells!
Ring them bells Sweet Martha,
For the poor man’s son
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one.
– Bob Dylan
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The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaohs’ daughters; Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts…
After several turns, he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell, a disused bell, that hung in the room, and communicated for some purpose now forgotten with a chamber in the highest story of the building. It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he saw this bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house.
This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar…
The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.
~ A Christmas Carol, Stave One