The History behind Christmas bells

Why do we traditionally ring bells at Christmas time? There are a variety of reasons, each steeped in tradition.

Celebrated all over the world by Christians, Christmas is a special time of year. There are many traditions that are enacted, some personal, some public, and the ringing of the bells is one of them. We ring sleigh bells, bells are put on doorways, the Salvation Army donation collector’s ring belles, and there are even supposed to bell on Santa’s sleigh. You can find bell-shaped lights, decorations, holiday serving sets and more. Obviously bells are very much part of the Christmas tradition, but how exactly did this come about?

Roots in pagan tradition

Christmas – being the celebration of the birth of Christ – is a holiday that parallels the Pagan holiday of Yule. You will find many Yule aspects in the celebration of Christmas, such as the decorating of the tree, the hanging of mistletoe in the doorway, the singing of songs, the lighting of candles, and the ringing of bells. The Pagans used bells in the fall and winter to ward off evil spirits during the night as it was believed these spirits did not like loud noises.

Over time the Christian religions took a hold of bell ringing as a sign of celebration instead of the warding off of evil. Church are rung to announce weddings and births, a call to order during olden times, and as way to signify something like a fire in small rural villages. During Christmas celebrations, they were used to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus. There were small an inexpensive instruments, perfect to carry around as an accompaniment to singing Christmas carols. Eventually their use in churches expanded to the popular hand choirs that are seen today.

Rudolph’s nose may be bright, but sleigh bells help too

Of course, Santa Claus and his reindeer couldn’t be without something to herald their arrival and the tradition of the reindeer wearing bells on their harnesses was started. The jingling of what came to be known as sleigh bells helped Santa find his sleigh in any weather after delivering gifts to good little boys and girls. Sleigh bells can now be found on the harnesses of horse drawn carriages and sleighs and they truly are a cheerful season sound.

Christmas bells are rung in different countries and they all take on a form that may or may not be the small metallic ‘silver’ bells we know today. For example, the citizens of Haiti ring small wooden bells instead of metal ones. The ringing of bells no matter where you may be is a celebration of life and happiness, and if you hear them tolling, smile in joy.

One Comment about “The History behind Christmas bells”

  1. ProActive Says:

    Great read thanks for the post. Never knew the story behind the ringing of bells and now I know

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