• Say What? ‘Carol of the Bells’, Blue Holiday Lights … and the Wonder of Christmas

    Surge Summary: What is it about the song “Carol of the Bells” and blue Christmas lights that seem to encapsulate the grandeur of Christmas? Hard to say – but they sure do.

    What would Christmas be like without repeated playings – and hearings – of the classic tune “Carol of the Bells”? Certainly not the holiday as I’ve come to know it.

    My freshman year at college – the first time I’d been away from family environs for the better part of the Christmas season – I attended a holiday campus concert. When the university’s glee club suddenly broke out into their spirited rendition of “Carol of the Bells” I was overwhelmed. Deep inside of me a sense of wistfulness surged. Home-sickness was a part of it, I suppose. But also something unquantifiable, something ineluctable; something about Christmas.

    It was a moment I’ll never forget – as if all that’s best and most glorious about that splendid annual interlude arrived unexpectedly on musical wings, wrapped evocatively in a staple of the season. In my heart and mind I revisit that fleeting but poignant incident regularly when “Carol of the Bells” chimes across the holiday’s soundtrack – over the radio, from the internet, piped in over a store’s or restaurant’s sound system.

    Interestingly, especially with the political focus recently on scandals swirling around Ukraine, the melody of “Carol of the Bells” is based on what had been a pre-Christian Ukrainian folk song welcoming the New Year. A few rewrites and tweakings later and it arrived at its current status: an enchanting canticle, irresistibly associated with festivities surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.

    To my tastes, Leonard Bernstein’s 1963 version, featuring the New York Philharmonic, is the definitive one; but there are multitudes of affecting adaptations. I’m not sure exactly how or why, but its haunting music, Aeolian rhythms, clipped delivery combine to capture the season’s ineffable essence, perhaps unlike any other composition: coziness of hearth and home, gifts eagerly given and received and, need I say, the other-worldliness of its central Figure and elements of mystery which attended His advent.

    Not to be too random here, but, for whatever reason, “Carol of the Bells” affects me every annum around this stretch the same way as do blue Christmas lights. Elvis may have kvetched about his “Blue Christmas”, but for me those twinkling bulbs entrance, mesmerize, stir something mystical.

    “Carol of the Bells”? Sparkling blue decorations? Both that sound and that sight educe a sense of unreachably ethereal beauty and wonder; the kind that infuses the celebration of God’s coming to earth as a baby so He could grow into a Man Who’d heal the sick, preach the truth and, ultimately, die as sacrifice for the very world that rejected and killed Him. Try to wrap your intellect around that: Jesus Christ, fully God, fully man; the Eternal Son landing on planet earth in the guise of an infant, to save us; to save YOU.

    On a profoundly practical level, the atonement – Christ’s payment for mankind’s rebellion against the Creator via the shedding of His blood – began with His debut as a newborn in a livestock feeding trough; in the “City of David”, over two millennia ago. If no humbling birth, then no person, no crucifixion – no propitiation for our sins.

    If you’ve not done so in a while — or maybe ever — sit down and think about that good and hard for a few minutes. Click on the link below before doing so and ponder it all while taking in “Carol of the Bells”; For good measure, if you can manage it, do it in a room luminous with blue Christmas lights. We’re talking the full package. Prepare yourself.

    The views here are those of the author and not necessarily Daily Surge.

    Image: Adapted from: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

    Steve Pauwels

    Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH, Managing Editor over at dailysurge.com and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.

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