Carol of the Bells

Songfacts®:

  • Most people automatically associate "Carol of the Bells" with Christmas, but its origins tell a different story. It's actually based on a traditional Ukrainian folk chant that celebrated the season of rebirth and anticipated a prosperous New Year. In 1916, composer Mykola Leontovich borrowed the four-note melody for a new choir song called "Shchedryk," which debuted in the US at Carnegie Hall in 1921. When American choir director Peter Wilhousky heard the song, he wrote new lyrics and introduced his version, called "Carol of the Bells," to holiday audiences. He copyrighted and published it in 1936.
  • One of the most popular renditions of "Carol of the Bells" is Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24," an instrumental medley of the song with another traditional carol, "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen." It was released on their debut album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories and, TSO co-creator Jon Oliva told us, it was a catalyst for the group's success.

    The piece has also been notably covered by Kenny Rogers, Mannheim Steamroller, Destiny's Child and John Tesh (Tesh's version made the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts in 1997). Fans of the Christian Metalcore band August Burns Red can also hear it at the group's Christmas show every year.
  • John Williams, the famous American composer often associated with filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, used "Carol of the Bells" prominently in the 1990 Christmas classic Home Alone. Williams' version serves as a haunting backdrop as Kevin rushes home to enact his plan against two bumbling burglars. The song was released that same year on the Home Alone soundtrack.
  • The popular English version "Ring, Christmas Bells" was written by Minna Louise Hohman in 1947.
  • The internet meme "Ding! Fries Are Done" is the anthem of a Burger King worker named Billy set to the tune of "Carol of the Bells." It originated in 1993 on the mysterious singer's cassette album A Very Spastic Christmas and gained attention the following year on the Dr. Demento radio show. In 2006, Peter Griffin covered the song on the Family Guy episode "Deep Throats." Despite the cartoon's popularity, interest in the song waned not long after the episode aired.

    Family Guy also featured an original version of "Carol of the Bells" - including the lyrics "Holy crap, here comes Jesus, and he doesn't look too happy" - on Peter's Christmas album from the episode "The Perfect Castaway."

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