Bells, especially church bells, have traditionally been associated with Christmas for a long time.
In Anglican and Catholic churches, church day begins at dusk, so any subsequent service is the first service of the day. So a service on Christmas Eve after sunset is traditionally the first Christmas day service! In churches that have a bell or bells, they are often called to indicate the start of this service.
In some churches in the United Kingdom, it is traditional for the church’s largest bell to ring four times before midnight and then, at midnight, all the bells ring to celebrate.
In the Catholic Church, Christmas and Easter are the only occasions when the Mass is allowed to be celebrated at midnight. It is traditional that both at midnight Masses, the church bells and the altar bells are also played, while the priest says the “Gloria” (Gloria in excelsis Deo).
The midnight mass at Christmas dates back to the early church, when it was believed that Jesus was born at midnight, although there has never been any proof of this! Many churches have midnight services on Christmas Eve, although not all churches will have a Mass or communion as part of the service.
In many Catholic countries, such as France, Spain and Italy, the massive midnight service is very important and everyone tries to go to a service.
In the Victorian era, it was very fashionable to go singing Christmas carols with small bells to play the melody of the carol. Sometimes there would only be bells and I will not sing! The doorbell is still popular today.
Perhaps the most famous Christmas bells now are those of the song ‘Jingle Bells’. Nevertheless, the song was called for the first time “One Horse Open Sleigh” and it was published originally, in USA, In September of 1857 as a song of Thanksgiving and NO Christmas. But soon it was associated with Christmas due to the “snowy” lyrics and many choirs sang it at Christmas in the 1860s and 1870s. It was recorded for the first time in 1889. Often only the first verse is sung (and the choir ). The other verses are about driving the ‘open sled of a horse’ pretty fast and crashing it!
Jingle Bells was also the first song that was issued from space in December 1965 when astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra said they had seen a sleigh in space. Then they took out a harmonica and a sled that had been smuggled into the Gemini 6 spacecraft and they played and sang the song for control of the mission.
Jingle Bells was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893) and the original version had some slightly different words and a melody for the chorus slightly different from the one used today. There is some debate about where it was written. Some people claim that it was written in 1850 Medford, Massachusetts; while other people claim that it was written about 1875 when James Lord Pierpoint lived in Savannah, Georgia