I heard some church bells ringing the other day, and – perhaps because it’s the Christmas season – it made me think of a column I wrote long ago. I dug it out of my files and reread it, and realized it was just as appropriate today as it was then. I hope it inspires some fond memories for you.
Christmas bells bring music, memories, and peace
“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 I 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, and 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.” The song made me smile, and I sang along, enjoying the bells ringing out between each of the verses.
There’s something magical and beautiful about the sound of bells. Especially church bells, and especially at Christmas. Bells have been used throughout history for various reasons – to sound alarms, warning people of danger, or to invite them to gather together for worship or for meals, or simply for 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 our neighborhood church. This was when church bells were still of the type shown in old movies – heavy and huge, with long, thick ropes hanging down from a bell tower high above. Movies and cartoons sometimes 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 when they’re not heavy enough or strong enough to pull the ropes and ring the bells.
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. A few times, 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 much older when I learned that the Christmas Eve dogfight in the song was actually inspired by a real event – 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.
December 11, 2022
©Betty Liedtke, 2022
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