The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on December 23, 2010.
“Christmas bells, those Christmas bells, ringing through the land, bringing peace to all the world. And good will to man.”
You may recognize those words as the chorus from “Snoopy’s Christmas,” a song about Charlie Brown’s pet beagle and his Christmas Eve battle against the Bloody Red Baron of Germany. The Red Baron was a World War 1 ace fighter pilot in real life, and also – occasionally – in the “Peanuts” comic strip. In the song, the Red Baron forces Snoopy’s plane down behind enemy lines. But then – inspired perhaps by the sound of Christmas bells from a nearby village – instead of shooting Snoopy, the Red Baron offers him a holiday toast and wishes him a Merry Christmas.
The song came on the radio one day last week as I was driving to a meeting. Although I’ve already heard most Christmas songs over and over again on the radio, it was the first time this season I heard “Snoopy’s Christmas.” Still, I recognized the song as soon as the opening music began. It made me smile, and I sang along, enjoying the bells that rang out between each of the verses.
There’s something magical and beautiful about the sound of bells. Especially church bells, and especially at Christmas. But really, all bells and at any time. In different places, and at different times, bells have been used to sound alarms to warn people of various types of danger, or to invite them to gather together for worship or for meals. Or simply to give people the pleasure of their sound, as with the bell choirs that I love to watch and listen to whenever they’re in church or in concert.
When I was little, we lived next door to the man who rang the bells at the church in our neighborhood. This was when church bells were still of the type that are shown in old movies – heavy and huge, with long, thick ropes hanging down from a bell tower high above. In the movies, it often takes two people to ring the bells, and there are a few films and cartoons that show children – or even adults – jumping up and grabbing hold of the rope, then swinging around in mid-air themselves like the clapper of a bell. They’re not heavy enough or strong enough to work the ropes and get the bells to ring.
Our neighbor, a kindly old man, was the custodian at our church and school. I saw him only occasionally during school hours, but always felt special when I did because he was someone important, and I knew him personally. I remember a few times when I actually got to see him ringing the church bells. It was just like in the movies, except that he was able to keep his feet on the ground, and didn’t go flying as he tried to pull on the ropes.
I don’t often hear church bells anymore, not the kind I remember from when I was young. But when I do, it gives me a sense of calm, of peace, and of faith that there is a power bigger than me – bigger than all of us – letting me know that all is well.
I was a teenager when “Snoopy’s Christmas” first came out, and I was much older than that when I first found out that the Christmas Eve dogfight in the song was actually inspired by a real event. It was the Christmas truce of 1914, when German and British soldiers put down their weapons and celebrated Christmas together from the trenches of World War I. They stepped out into the dangerous No Man’s Land between them, singing Christmas songs and exchanging small gifts. And for one night in one small area, there was no war.
I don’t know whether there were any church bells in the distance that could be heard by the men, but I like to think so. It would have been beautiful background music to this very real – though very limited – peace on earth.
Whatever your faith may be, and however you worship or honor this season, I hope music is a part of it. My holiday wish for you, and for us all, is Christmas bells, those Christmas bells, ringing through the land. Bringing peace to all the world. And good will to man.
© Betty Liedtke, 2010