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December 23, 2020

Why the Text Change?

“Carol of the Bells” is originally a Ukrainian folk song written as a “winter well-wishing song”. Sang by many on the Julian New Years predicting good fortune.

Written in 1916 by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich and titled “Shchedryk,” which means “bountiful”, the song tells the tale of a swallow, the herald of spring coming, flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful year that the family will have. The original lyrics describe the swallow calling out to the master of the home and telling him about all the wealth that he will possess — healthy livestock, money and a beautiful wife.

When American choir director and arranger Peter Wilhousky heard Leontovich’s choral work, it reminded him of bells; it inspired him to write new lyrics to convey that imagery for his choir. He copyrighted the new lyrics in 1936 and also published the song, despite the fact that the work was published almost two decades earlier in Soviet Ukraine.

Now called “Carol of the Bells,” the song has become associated with Christmas because of its new lyrics, which include references to silver bells, caroling and the line “merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas.”

Though we have not restored it to its original lyrics, please note the small changes of “Christmas is here” to “Winter is here” and “merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas” to “merry, merry, merry, merry Year”. Our goal was to incorporate small traces of the song’s genealogy to honor its original folk history.

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