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History of Christmas Carols: "Silver Bells"

The author enjoys sharing her knowledge across a variety of interesting subjects, including the history of Christmas carols.

Read on to learn the interesting background of this popular holiday carol!

Read on to learn the interesting background of this popular holiday carol!

History of the Christmas Song, "Silver Bells"

"Silver Bells" was written for the movie, The Lemon Drop Kid, starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, in 1951. It was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who were very reluctant to write a Christmas song as new ones had never made the hit list. Their uncertainty about taking on such a project also stemmed from the fact that their contracts were coming due, and they had not written a hit in a while. Another flop would have sealed their fate.

Because the studio was insistent on a new Christmas song being written for this movie, the duo wrote a song based on department store Santas and Salvation Army workers tinkling their bells on New York street corners. They named their song "Tinkle Bell", and fortunately for all of us, Jay told his wife about the song, including their name for it. Asking Jay if he was out of his mind, she proceeded to inform him of the slang meaning of 'tinkle' understood by most people.

Lucky for the world, Jay accepted his wife's criticism of the title with maturity. He and Ray loved the music and melody of their song, "Tinkle Bell". The word 'Tinkle' was replaced with 'Silver' and left the rest of the lyrics untouched; the rest, as they say, is history!

"Silver Bells" became a huge hit when Bing Crosby recorded a duet of the song with Carol Richards, securing the employment of Jay and Ray with Paramount Pictures and providing the world with a much-loved musical tradition.

History of Christmas Bells

Bells are rung to announce an important life event, either happy or sad. They are rung at weddings and funerals, but at Christmastime, they are rung to announce the birth of Jesus.

The ringing of bells goes back to pagan rituals. They rang bells to keep evil spirits away, and bells were a part of many of their winter celebrations. As the Christian holiday of Christmas was placed on a date used for the celebration of other pagan deities to encourage conversion to Christianity, bells were incorporated into the Christian holiday.

Origin of Christmas Carols

Christmas carols have an ancient history, from extremely formal Latin hymns to more popular Christian songs sung from door to door.

  • They first appeared in second-century Rome as hymns sung in Latin to enforce the doctrine of the Holy Trinity which was being challenged by Arianism, a belief claiming that Jesus was a being lower than God because he was created human.
  • The ninth and tenth centuries added a rhyming scheme to hymns and introduced pagan lore to make them more acceptable to the general population.
  • St. Francis of Assisi was responsible for the creation of carols popular to the masses by encouraging carols to be sung in the audience's native language.
  • Christmas caroling, from home to home, traces its origins back to 19th century England.
  • The tradition of singing and travelling to neighbors' homes to wish them good cheer began in Victorian England when medieval church carols merged with Christian folk music.
  • At this time, Christmas was becoming more commercialized, and many Christmas carols, still popular today, were written.
  • The culture of caroling has gone by the wayside as it is no longer feasible to assume all neighbors share the same faith and proclivities, but Christmas carols still are hugely popular.
  • It would not be Christmas for those who celebrate without the traditional Christmas carols playing in the home and on the radio, including some newer additions such as "Silver Bells".


© 2012 Teresa Coppens


Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 23, 2012:

Thanks K9, glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for your continued support! It always means a lot!

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India Arnold from Northern, California on August 23, 2012:

"Silver Bells" remains one of my favorite Christmas songs. Crosby's smooth crooning didn't hurt this song one bit, luckily for the writers! I found your sidebar offering the history of Christmas Bells very interesting, Teresa. Nice job! Voting up!


Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 23, 2012:

Thanks Doc. I agree with your assessment of 'Tinkle Bells' as a song title. What were they thinking??????

Glen Nunes from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on August 23, 2012:

"Silver Bells" is a classic, a very nice piece of songwriting. "Tinkle Bells", not so much. Great history of the song, and of caroling in general. Voted up and interesting.

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 23, 2012:

My thoughts exactly Alissa. So glad you enjoyed the history of this tune. I'm in the Christmas mood already.

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on August 23, 2012:

One of my favorites! It just isn't Christmas until you hear this song. I love the history behind it and had to laugh when I read the original title was going to be Tinkle Bells :D Just goes to show that men should always listen to their wife! Voted up - useful and interesting!

Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 21, 2012:

Thanks aviannovice. It was a treat to write. Glad you enjoyed it.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on August 21, 2012:

Thanks for the terrific history of the song, which I never knew. Awesome!

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