The melody for Carol of the Bells was composed by the Ukranian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1904. The words were written later by Peter J. Wilhousky and has been covered by many artists in different genres each year: classical, jazz, rock and pop. I’ve even heard it done in accapela. And no matter which genre picks it up this year, I’m sure it will be just as beautifully arranged.
The song was originally based on a traditional folk chant associated with the coming new year which, in Ukraine, was originally celebrated with the coming of spring in April.
When Christianity spread to the Ukraine, the new year moved to January, which this chant then became used for the Feast of Epiphany.
The lyrics we’ve come to associate with this tune didn’t originate with the melody written by Leontovych. The original text tells a tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful and bountiful year that the family would have.
The song first premiered in December 1916 and was performed by a student choral group at Kiev University. Carol of the Bells was first introduced to Western audiences by the Ukranian National Chorus during their concert tour of Europe and the Americas, where it first premiered in the US on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall.
Wilhousky wrote the copyrighted English text in the 1930s and it has been performed and sung worldwide during the Christmas season since.
My favorite version of this song can be found on BarlowGirl‘s Christmas album, which was released in 2008.
Ding. Dong. Ding. Dong.